Leaders in learning by DonaldClark

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									50 faces who shaped and mis-shaped learning
Why no heroes?
Can you name a recent Nobel Prize winner in learning theory? As someone new to the
learning industry 25 years ago, I was surprised to find that most practitioners in
learning (teachers, lecturers and trainers) knew little about the history of learning or
the psychology of learning, and had done almost no in-depth reading on the subject.

Despite education and training‟s central role in society, its intellectual heroes have
low visibility. Few can name more than a handful of candidates for the Hall of Fame.
Unlike sport, politics, philosophy, literature, music, painting, film, business or
science, learning practitioners have a sketchy idea of the contributions and theories of
their intellectual leaders, past and present. Most physicists know of Newton, Einstein
and Hawking. Most artists know of Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso. Most
musicians know of Beethoven, Mozart and the Beatles. Most engineers know of Watt,
Brunel and Telford. Businessmen know of Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and Bill
Gates. Even criminals would know of Guy Fawkes, Jack the Ripper and the Boston
Strangler. Yet most learning professionals have at best a sketchy idea of learning
theory and the minds that have shaped this theory, and practice. We have no heroes
and a rather scrappy history. (answer to first question is Eric Kandel)

In the history of learning, we find that learning is doomed, not so much to repeat
itself, but to remain stuck in an ancient groove, that of simple lectures and classroom
learning. This is still the dominant method of delivery, yet there is little or no
evidence to show that it is effective. In fact, almost everything in the theory and
psychology of learning tells us that it is wrong to rely so heavily on this single method
of delivery. The history of learning theory has had to be largely ignored to
accommodate this lazy approach to practice. It has been willingly ignored to protect,
not learners, but the bad habits of those who teach. We have seen no real progress in
teaching for nearly a thousand years. In fact one could argue, for nearly 2,500 years,
as Socrates at least had some idea of how to stimulate young minds through inquiry.

Old theory and practice
There is the old and misguided theory, which at times has simply been hanging
around for fifty years or more, embedded like fossils in educational institutions or
„train the trainer‟ courses. This includes basic behaviourism from Skinner, an
outdated taxonomy from Bloom, an over-simplistic instructional theory from Gagne,
another simplistic and irrelevant theory from Maslow, an overemphasis on therapy
culture from Rogers, and an outdated theory of evaluation from Kirkpatrick. Much of
what passes for theory has become embedded in real practice holding back progress.
The past haunts learning as its ghosts hang around and get embedded in „teacher
training‟ or „train the trainer‟ courses.

Faddish theory and practice
Even worse is the plethora of truly faddish and non-empirical theory and practice that
pervades the learning world. This includes; learning styles, the Mozart Effect, L/R
brain theory and NLP. Most of this theory and practice has no scientific or validated
background. They have simply taken root through the marketing campaigns of those
who sell the courses.

Ignored theory and practice
On the other hand, theorists who have uncovered the importance of „learning by
doing, such as James, Dewey, Kolb and Shank, have been largely ignored by a system
that values declarative knowledge over the ability to do things, despite the fact that
the greatest need is in the latter sphere.

Ignored scientific theory and practice
As we have come to study the mind through psychology, from the late 19th century,
this science has enlightened us on motivation, memory, primacy, attention, recency
and many other attributes we need to know of to deliver of efficient learning. Yet
learning practice is surprisingly divorced from this theory. Basic proven ideas such as
reinforcement and spaced practice, explored and confirmed over a century ago, are
still largely ignored. Despite 120 years of consistent research from Ebbinghaus
onwards we‟re still largely ignoring the basic principles of why and how
reinforcement works through designed spaced practice to embed knowledge and
skills. This is the equivalent of an engineer building bridges without any knowledge
or application of the basic laws of physics. The solid science on psychological
attention, cognitive overload and memory theory goes largely ignored. Education and
training seems immune from the simple science that underpins learning. The
psychology of learning is ignored in favour of flavour of the day practices.

Why read this book?
This project started when I realised that I had to have some sure foundations for my
own practice in the field, so I embarked on a programme of critical reading at Epic,
which, over 25 years took me through the entire sweep of learning theory, covering
over two thousand years. I have always found it useful to take notes when I read and
this book is a result of this consistent note taking.

Note that this is, at times, a critical work. I read this stuff to learn, not to simply précis
texts. The history of learning theory and practice has not proceeded in an orderly
fashion, like science. Like a river delta, there‟s a rough sense of direction and
progress, with lots of tributaries, some run dry, other run into other tributaries, some
switch back and so on. It proceeds by fits and starts.

In an effort to explain our predecessors, warts and all, this series of portraits will take
look at the people who shaped learning theory and practice over the centuries. They
have all played a role in shaping (some mis-shaping) the learning landscape. Our
theorists are major thinkers who have reflected on the large-scale issues around
learning and education. The practitioners have more direct relevance, as their advice
is wholly relevant to the design of e-learning programmes.
The format is simple. I have presented fifty major shapers and movers in learning,
clustering them under headings. They are by no means the only people who have
contributed to the field, but they‟re a pretty representative group. I have taken a
particular tack in these pen portraits, examining their relevance to the future of


Theory                     Practice                       E-learning

GREEKS                     CONSTRUCTIVISTS                USABILITY & EVALUATION
Socrates                   Piaget                         Norman
Plato                      Bruner                         Nielsen
Aristotle                  Vygotsky                       Krug

ENLIGHTENMENT              TAXONOMISTS                    EVALUATION
Locke                      Bloom                          Kirkpatrick
Rousseau                   Biggs
                           Bateson                        MEDIA & DESIGN
PRAGMATISTS                Belbin                         Mayer & Clark
James                                                     Reeves & Nass
Dewey                      INSTRUCTIONALISTS
                           Ebbinghaus                     INFORMAL LEARNING
MARXISTS                   Gagne                          Cross
Marx                       Mager                          Csikszentmihalyi
Althusser                  EXPERIENTIALIST                INTERNET LEARNING
                           Kolb                           Page & Brin
BEHAVIOURISTS              Schank                         Bezos
Pavlov                                                    Hurley & Chen
Skinner                    TECHNOLOGY
Bandura                    ANALYSTS                       INTERNET CONTENT
                           McLuhan                        Sperling
HUMANISTS                  Postman                        Wales
Rogers                     GAMES
Illich                     Prensky
Gardener                   Gee
We may not know it, but our education system has been shaped by figures that lived
over two thousand years ago. Teachers and trainers still talk of the Socratic method,
although they rarely have much of a grasp of what it really involved. Plato and
Aristotle live on in schools through the classical ideals, originally enshrined in
Victorian schools, and still common in modern educational practice. They set the pace
for education and learning in the Western tradition, with their emphasis on a rounded
education through the Greek ideal of excellence in „mind and body‟. The modern
University has its precursors in Plato‟s Academy and Aristotle‟s Lyceum.
Socrates (469-399 BC)
                         Most professionals in learning will have heard of the
                         „Socratic method‟. Fewer will know that he never wrote a
                         single word describing this method. Fewer still will know that
                         the method is not what it is commonly represented to be, and
                         even fewer may know that he was one of the few teachers
                         who actually died for his craft, executed by the Athenian
                         authorities for supposedly corrupting the young.

                         How many have read the Socratic dialogues? How many
                         know what he meant by his method and how he practised his
approach? Socrates, in fact, wrote absolutely nothing. It was Plato and Xenophon who
record his thoughts and methods through the lens of their own beliefs. We must
remember, therefore, that Socrates is in fact a mouthpiece for the views of others. In
fact the two pictures painted of Socrates by these two commentators differ hugely. In
the Platonic Dialogues he is witty, playful and a great philosophical theorist, in
Xenophon he is a dull moraliser.

Socratic method
The idea that Socrates was an intellectual midwife to people‟s own thoughts is his
great educational principle. His mother was indeed a midwife but he was among the
first to recognise that, in terms of learning, ideas are best generated from the learner in
terms of understanding and retention. Education is not a cramming in, but a drawing

What is less well known is the negative side of the Socratic method. He loved to pick
intellectual fights and the method was not so much a gentle teasing out of ideas, more
the brutal exposure of falsehoods. He was described by one of his victims as a
„predator which numbs its victims with an electric charge before darting in for the
kill‟. He even describes himself as a „gadfly, stinging the sluggish horse of Athens to

He was roundly ridiculed in public drama, notably by his contemporary, Aristophanes
in Clouds, where he uses the Socratic method to explore idiotic ideas using petty hair-
splitting logic. This negative side of Socrates is well described by Woodbridge in The
Son of Apollo, „Flattery, cajolery, insinuation, innuendo, sarcasm, feigned humility,
personal idiosyncrasies, browbeating, insolence, anger, changing the subject when in
difficulties, faulty analogies, telling stories which make one forget what the subject of
the discussion was. His great joy was simply pulling people and ideas to pieces.

Socratic philosophy of education
Beyond the famous Socratic method, he did have a philosophy of education. It
included several principles:

   1. Knowledge and learning as a noble pursuit
   2. Learning as a social activity pursued through dialogue
   3. Questions lie at the heart of learning to draw out what they already know,
      rather than imposing pre-determined views
   4. Learning must be pursued with a ruthless intellectual honesty

In practice, these noble aims were marred by a spitefulness. He would claim that he
taught nothing as he had nothing to teach, but this conceals his true desire to
overcome and intellectually destroy his opponents.

If we were to behave like Socrates in the modern school, college, university or
training room, we‟d be in front of several tribunals for bullying, not sticking to the
curriculum and failing to prepare students for their exams. Not to mention his
pederasty. (We can perhaps put this to one side as a feature of the age!) So think again
when you use the phrase „Socratic method‟ it‟s not what it seems.

His lasting influence is the useful idea, that for certain types of learning, questioning
and dialogue allows the learner to generate their own ideas and conclusions, rather
than be spoon-fed. This has transformed itself into the idea of discovery learning, but
there have been severe doubts expressed about taking this method too far. We
wouldn‟t want our children to discover how to cross the road by pushing them out
between parked cars!

Plato, The Collected Dialogues of Plato, E Hamilton, Princeton. (Thaetetus is the key
dialogue on the search for knowledge.)

Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, Penguin Classics (trial and condemnation)

Aristophanes The Clouds, Penguin Classics (satire of Socrates)

Ferguson J (1970) Socrates, Macmillan (excellent source book)

Woodbridge F (1929) The Son of Apollo, Boston (good commentary)
Plato (428-348 BC)
                               It is through Plato that we know Socrates, but Plato is
                               no mere mouthpiece. All western philosophy has been
                               described as „footnotes to Plato‟. Like Socrates, he
                               believed in the power of questioning as a method of
                               teaching. Indeed, his dialogues do not feature Plato
                               himself. They illustrate by example his view that the
                               learners must learn to think for themselves through
                               dialogue. But he was a direct and detailed commentator
                               in his utopian vision of education in The Republic and
                               The Laws.

Plato’s Academy
Plato‟s Academy is thought by many to have been the first University. He founded
The Academy in 387 B.C. a philosophical school that became very famous due to the
Neoplatonists, and remained in use until A.D. 526, when it was finally closed down
by emperor Justinian. Having run for 900 years it rivals any current western university
for longevity. Above its door were the words Let no one unversed in geometry enter
here, and he did see mathematics as important training for the mind, along with the
idea of proof and clear hypotheses.

Educational utopia
It is in The Republic and The Laws, Plato‟s description of his utopia, that we hear
most about his views on education. Indeed, his views are laid down in these texts in
exacting detail. Plato‟s political utopia would have few followers today, except
among dictators and oligarchs. His views on education, however, have some lasting

The Greek ideal of body and mind is seen in an educational context with a structured
approach to education across one‟s entire lifetime.

School, he proposes, should start at six with the basic skills of rearing, writing and
arithmetic. He recommends censoring fiction at this age, especially poetry and drama,
arguing that they can cloud a child‟s mind and reduce their ability to make judgments
and deal with the real world. He also thought that they may be tempted to emulate
some of the immoral behaviour in such texts. More than this, he thought that fiction
could lead to self-deception giving learners a false-sense of themselves. A strict
curriculum is recommended in early years.

The educational system should also be designed to determine the abilities of
individuals and training provided to apply to the strengths of their abilities. In other
words, a severe form of streaming.

Music and sports should then be brought into the curriculum with more serious
attention paid to military training at the age of 18. At 21, higher educational goals are
introduced, with philosophy at 30. It is only at the age of 50 that the educated person
should be allowed to rule – the philosopher king.

We must remember that Plato does don‟t see this as education for all, merely a
minority destined to rule. On the other hand, his appreciation that people learn
differently over time has been taken up by those who see „andragogy‟ as a theoretical
construct. He does see the mind developing over time with age as an important factor
in education. There is also a sense of lifelong learning.

Plato‟s lasting contribution to educational theory probably lies in his writing of the
Socratic dialogues, however these represent both the thoughts of Socrates as well as
his own ideas.

As well as promoting mathematics as a foundation skill he founded a great Academy,
the forerunner of the modern University. Theoretically, he mapped out a
developmental educational theory that rested on the Greek ideal of mind and body but
saw education as developing at different ages. His ideas were to be revived by the
humanists during the Renaissance.


Plato (1955) The Republic, London: Penguin (translated by H. P. D. Lee).

Hare, R. M. (1989) Plato, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Succinct introduction.
Aristotle (384-322 BC)
                               Aristotle is in some ways a more important educational
                               theorist and philosopher than Socrates. His work has
                               resonated down the ages and although we have only
                               fragments from his book On Education, we have
                               enough secondary evidence to piece together his
                               theories on the subject.

                               As a counter to Plato‟s love of reason, Aristotle
                               introduced a more empirical approach to theory and
                               learning and more emphasis on the physical sciences.
                               Much of his science is wrong but he set us on a path
                               towards investigation, and observation that would prove
                               to be a positive legacy over the last 2000 years.

Greek ideal
He was a proponent of the Greek ideal of an all-round education. A balance of
activities that train both mind and body including debate, music, science, philosophy
had to be combined with physical development and training. This ideal has had a
profound influence on the West‟s idea of education and schooling. Modern schools
and universities have this classical ideal as their core values.

Practice as well as theory
Despite his position as one of the World‟s greatest intellectuals and philosophers, he
showed great concern for practical and technical education, in addition to
contemplation. He would be genuinely puzzled by our system‟s emphasis on theory
rather than practice. Learning by doing was a fundamental issue in his theory of
learning. 'Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it...‟ he
says, echoing with many a modern theorist. This is not to forget theory and theorising,
only to recognise that education needs to be habitually reinforced through practice.

Education was for Aristotle a fundamental activity in life. „Better a philosopher
unsatisfied, than a pig satisfied‟ to quote his peer and contemporary, Plato. And this
philosophical view of education is one of his main concerns. Education is not the
mere transmission of knowledge, it is a preparation for participation in a fulfilled life
that reflects and acts on ethical and political grounds. Its as much about rights than
getting things right.

The schism between Plato and Aristotle, theory and practice, teaching and research,
lives on in our Universities. Aristotle, in the western tradition was the first to break
with philosophical reasoning as the primary approach to education. However, his
theories also gave rise to scholasticism that was to send the search for knowledge and
education into more than a millennium of decline. It wasn‟t until the Renaissance and
subsequent Enlightenment that recovery was possible. Nevertheless, Aristotle remains
a towering figure and we have somehow recovered components of the Greek ideal
through the Renaissance recovery to build educational systems that recognise that

Aristotle The Nicomachean Ethics, London: Penguin. (The most recent edition is
1976 - with an introduction by Barnes).

Aristotle The Politics (A treatise on government), London: Penguin.

Barnes, J. (1982) Aristotle, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Good introduction.

Jaeger, W. W. (1948) Aristotle, Oxford: Oxford University Press. The authoritative
Empiricists and romantics
Locke in the 17th century and Rousseau in the 18th century were to change the history
of human thought, not always, some would claim, for the better. Locke was the
practical, British empiricist who wrote a highly influential manual on education,
which still contains much good sense. Rousseau was the wild French romantic, who
expressed his thoughts on education in the form of a novel, Emile. Both shared a
concern for the learner as an individual who needs to be motivated to learn.
Locke (1632-1704)
                               John Locke remains was the greatest philosopher of his
                               age and laid the foundations for empiricism and the
                               enlightenment view of knowledge, politics and
                               education. Breaking free from medieval scholasticism,
                               and disaffected by the educational habits of his day, he
                               put forward a sophisticated theory of education built,
                               not around the transmission of information, but the
                               shaping of habits and character around wisdom and
                               virtue. These theories, grounded in his liberal, political
                               philosophy, are written in Some Thoughts Concerning
                               Education (1692). The book was widely translated and
                               became a manual for education among the upper classes
                               for most of 18th century.

Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1692)
The book is a series of very practical methods for encouraging good habits and
character right down to details on curiosity, games, language learning, dancing etc. He
recommends educational methods that focus on example and practice, rather than the
teaching of information and principles. In this sense, it is not learning that matters, but
the establishment of good habits. It is repeated practice that instils these worthy
behaviours so that they become instinctive. The concrete rather than the abstract is
recommended for the reinforcement of such good habits.

The learner must not be coerced into learning but made to feel as if it is in their own
interest, and that they are acting from their own free will. Not that children should be
spoilt. For those of a vocational bent he recommends practical skills and
understanding. Beyond this, his focus is on a healthy mind that has the basics in
reading, writing, arithmetic, a knowledge of literature along with the natural and
social sciences. But not the arts, which he regarded as either useless or dangerous.
Detailed scholarly study should be left to those who want to become scholars.

He does not recommend school for those who can afford tutors, and sets great store on
the enthusiasm of parents, and the family in general. Schools, he thought, merely
perpetuate bad company and bad habits of behaviour. A child is a member of both a
family and nation with the individual having the right to life and liberty. It is the idea
of a free mind, that uses the power of reason to become contributory, autonomous
adults in a free society that mark out this educational theory based on political belief.

It is the sweeping scope of his thinking that impresses, couching education in a
political and epistemological theory that was to have a profound influence in the
world. His thoughts on education, although influential, are weakened by the fact that
he saw the mind as a blank slate. He was also a product of the age making a massive
distinction between the education of Gentlemen and the masses. However, his
observations and general views on education point towards a tradition that focused on
character and autonomy within society, rather than the transmission of knowledge.
Aaron, R. (1971). John Locke. Oxford: The Oxford University Press

Cranston, M. (1969). John Locke (rev. ed. Green and Co., Ltd. London: Longmans

Deighton, L.C. (Ed.) (1971). The encyclopedia of education, volume 6. New York:
The Macmillan Company and the Free Press.

John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education and of the Conduct of the
Understanding, ed. by Ruth W. Grant and Nathan Tarcov (Hackett, 1996)

Tarcov, N. (1984). Locke's education for liberty. Chicago: The University of Chicago

Yolton, J. W. (1968). John Locke and the way of ideas. Oxford: The Oxford
University Press
Rousseau (1712-1778)
                                 Jean Jaques Rousseau was a philosopher who wrote
                                 extensively on education, including a major novel
                                 „Emile‟, still arguably the most important novel on
                                 education ever written. His contribution to political
                                 thought through The Social Contract and aesthetics
                                 through The Reveries were even more profound.

                                 As an exponent of The Noble Savage he saw
                                 civilisation as a corrupting influence, creating
                                 inequalities and conflict. His educational theories are
                                 an attempt to avoid such corruption within the mind of
                                 essentially good human beings.

With a passing nod to Locke in the preface he states his intention to build a complete
theory of education from the point of view of the learner. Emile grows from a boy to a
man and Rousseau tracks his inner natural growth, matched by education appropriate
to these natural stages of development. It is the learner that matters and the learner
who develops in a natural fashion, not shaped by teachers but growing in response to
appropriate opportunities for development.

The book develops over five sections The first two are about giving the child freedom
to explore and drink from his/her senses as their ability to attend to serious learning is
absent and when forced is counterproductive. It is only at around 12 that the education
of the mind should become a concern. From 12-15 the child can attend to matters of
the mind. From 15-20 we are born again as we develop naturally into adults. This
time of turbulent emotion allows us to learn about conflict, morals and religion. There
is a gradual introduction into the ways of the world and wider society, but it is
between 20-25 that society must be seriously introduced. Here Emile meets Sophie,
who he will marry. Rousseau takes this opportunity to draw differences between the
education of men and women, based on his belief that the two sexes are naturally

Educational principles
Education comes from nature, men and things, these are our three masters and nature
is the most important. The child, naturally good, needs simple freedom and not rushed
into inappropriate or unnatural educational activity. Play and self-reliance are
important. From then on, each stage of natural development needs appropriate and
personal education. Learning must be appropriately matched to age. The focus is on
motivation, first through restlessness, then curiosity and later goals. People do not
need to be taught in a traditional sense; they need to be exposed to problems and come
to their own conclusions.

Rousseau's legacy has been profound but problematic. Having encouraged the idea of
romantic naturalism and the idea of the noble and good child, that merely needs to be
nurtured in the right way through discovery learning, he paints an over-romantic
picture of education as natural development. The Rousseau legacy is the idea that all
of our educational ills come from the domineering effect of society and its
institutional approach to educational development. If we are allowed to develop
naturally, he claims, all will be well. This over-romantic view of human development,
although not without truth, lacks psychological depth. Emile, as Althusser claims,
now reads like a fictional utopia.


Rousseau, J-J. (1762) Émile, London: Penguin.

Rousseau, J-J (1762) The Social Contract, London: Penguin. (1953 edn.) Translated
and introduced by Maurice Cranston.

Rousseau, J-J (1755) A Discourse on Inequality. Translated with an introduction by
M. Cranston (1984 edn.), London: Penguin.

Rousseau, J-J (1755) A Discourse on Political Economy. Available as part of The
Social Contract and Discourses, London: Everyman/Dent.

Rousseau, J-J (1782) The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1953 edn.),
London: Penguin.

Rousseau, J-J (1782) Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Translated with an introduction
by P. France, London: Penguin.

Boyd, W. (1956) Émile for Today. The Émile of Jean Jaques Rousseau selected,
translated and interpreted by William Boyd, London: Heinemann.
It was in the US that a fresh scientific, psychological and pragmatic approach to
educational theory was to emerge. The pragmatists James and Dewey were to
introduce and emphasise psychology as the springboard for reflection on learning.
They were also to push the importance of action, through „learning by doing‟. Their
practical theories were to have practical reach, and to this day they remain central to
modern thought on educational theory.
James (1842-1910)
                             William James is widely regarded as the father of modern
                             psychology. His The Principles of Psychology (1890) set
                             the tone for future inquiry into the mind, establishing
                             psychology as a separate discipline; the scientific study of
                             the mind.

                             Grounded in his philosophical theory of pragmatism,
                             James‟s theories emphasised the consequences of one‟s
                             actions, rather than pure theoretical speculation.

Learning by doing
Like Locke, he wrote a practical book Talks to Teachers (1899), originally a series of
lectures, giving practical advice to teachers. The difference is that psychology had
now become, through his efforts, a science, and its principles could be used in
educational theory.

It was here that he put forward his now famous theory on learning by doing. This was
to heavily influence John Dewey, and the future of educational theory through to Kolb
and others. The book doesn‟t pretend to have all the answers, as psychology is a
science; teaching an art. But some psychological principles are clear.

Education is, above all, the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies
to behaviour. Children should not be expected to learn by rote. Their experiences
must be turned into useful and habitual behaviour through action. The learner must
listen, but then take notes, experiment, write essays, measure, consult and apply. He
recommends learning through work and the creation of real things or dealings with
real people in a shop, to give you educational experiences beyond mere theory. He
was in fact a firm advocate of vocationally oriented schools and work-based learning
(relevant today or not?).

The supervision of the acquisition of habit is another of his principles. Habit is the
enormous flywheel of society, and should be exercised until securely rooted. The
result of almost all learning is this habitual behaviour. Association, interest, attention,
will and motivation; these are James‟s driving forces in education. In addition there‟s
memory, curiosity, emulation, constructiveness, pride, fear and love - all impulses that
must be turned to good use.

This is not to say that he favoured a lazy, or what he called „soft pedagogics‟. He
recognized that learning was sometimes hard, even arduous.

William James proved to be a turning point in the history of both psychology and
educational theory. He set both off in a more orderly fashion, introducing the
scientific study of the mind as applied to learning. This has since proved to be by far
the most fruitful approach to education and learning theory. In particular, his
emphasis on learning by doing still reverberates through Dewey, Kolb and others.

Myers, G (Editor). William James: Writings 1878-1899, Library of America

Myers, G (Editor). William James: Writings 1902-1910, Library of America

James, William. (1899) Talks to Teachers

James, William. (1899) The Principles of Psychology

James, William. (1899) Pragmatism

Putnam, Hilary. (1995) Pragmatism: An Open Question, Blackwell
Dewey (1859 - 1952)
                           John Dewey, like Socrates, was a philosopher first and
                           educational theorist second, and like Socrates, his
                           progressive educational theory has been simplified to the
                           level of caricature. It is often assumed that he favoured an
                           extreme version of discovery learning. This was not in fact
                           the case.

                            As a philosopher he was what is called a „pragmatist‟, a
                            school of philosophy that emerged from Pierce and James
                            in the 19th century. His reflections on the nature of
                            knowledge, experience and communication, combined
                            with his views of democracy and community, led to an
educational theory that started with a broad based vision of what education should be,
an identification of educational methods, then a pragmatic view of its implementation.
He practised what he preached through his own Laboratory School.

Problem based learning
He is best known for his problem-solving approach to learning. All learning is
experienced by the learner but according to Dewey, exposure to certain types of
learning experiences are more important than others.

His focus on schools was almost obsessive, however, he was refreshingly honest
about their limitations. He saw schools as only one means of learning, „and compared
with other agencies, a relatively superficial means‟. In fact, he was keen to break
down the boundaries of school, seeing them as a community within a community.
Those involved in the modern debate about a more active role for schools in their
community can benefit from a re-reading of Dewey.

Schools should create learning opportunities by engaging in occupational activities, as
practised by the rest of society. That schools had become divorced from society was
one of his basic claims. In his model school, the students planted wheat and cotton,
processed and transported it for sale to market.

Dewey spoke out against communism as well as the right-wing threat in US politics,
including what he saw as reactionary Catholicism. A recent reappraisal sees him as a
typical American liberal believing in a secular approach to education and reform in
education, moving it beyond the limitations of traditional „schooling‟.

More importantly for our purposes, experiential learning through Kolb and others had
its origins in Dewey. His views on schools and how they relate to a modern,
democratic society are also of lasting interest. Unfortunately, he has been interpreted
as an evangelist for „discovery-learning‟ widely regarded as a flawed model when not
supplemented with alterative strategies.
Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. An introduction to the philosophy of
education (1966 edn.), New York: Free Press.

Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to
the educative process (Revised edn.), Boston: D. C. Heath.

Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and Education, New York: Collier Books. (Collier
edition first published 1963).

Dewey, J. (1929) Experience and Nature, New York: Dover. (Dover edition first
published in 1958).

Campbell, J. (1995) Understanding John Dewey. Nature and co-operative
intelligence, Chicago: Open Court.

Ryan, A. (1995) John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism, New York:
W. W. Norton.
Marx and Marxists
Marx, and Marxist theories of education, have had a profound effect on education.
Although Marx did not theorise about education in any detailed manner, his followers
developed theories about the role of education in society that were to affect billions of
people across the globe. There are many Marxist theorists in education, but two stand
out as Marxist in the literal sense – Gramsci and Althusser. These two, more than any
others, developed theories that derive from Marx, but developed into full sociological
analyses defining the role of education in society, along with ideas on how to change
that role in line with the Marxist refrain that the point of theory was not to describe
the world, but to change it.
Marx (1818-1883)
                                Although Karl Marx wrote nothing directly on
                                education, his influence on learning theory and practice
                                has been profound. It was Marxism that underpinned
                                the entire communist world‟s view of learning in the
                                20th century, especially through Marxist theorists such
                                as Gramsci and Althusser.

                                The Cultural Revolution in China between 1949 and
                                1966 was unleashed with devastating consequences in
                                the education system and to this day Marxism persists
                                in educational and learning theory, most notably in the
                                social constructivism of Vygotsky, Luria and Leontyev.

Education the result of economic structures
As Marx believed that our very consciousness, as well as all of our theorising and
institutions, were the result of basic economic structures, education is seen as the
result of existing class structures. In practice, this means that the ruling class controls
and determines educational theory, policy and institutional development. Dialectical
materialism was the manifestation of struggles between groups within society. It was
this idea that led to the persecution of intellectuals in many Marxist states, who were
seen as belonging to the wrong group.

Gramsci and Althusser
It was left to later Marxists to expand Marx‟s theories into working models that relate
to knowledge, intellectual development and education. Antonio Gramsci developed
these ideas further through ideas such as "ideological hegemony". The ruling class
determines what passes as knowledge or truth. Louis Althusser developed this further
exploring the way in which the media and other institutions become the ideological
state apparatus. Class structures determine knowledge and the means by which
knowledge is transmitted, distributed and taught. These ideas were to literally shape
education for a large part of the twentieth century across many countries.

Social constructivism
Marx is still having a profound influence on educational theory today through social
constructivist theory. The resurrection of Vygotsky has led to strong beliefs and
practices around the role of the teachers and collaborative learning and the belief that
language lies at the heart of educational problems. We no longer have Marxist
ideology shaping education, but we do have the ideas dressed up in sociology and
social psychology. More of this later under Vygotsky.

We are still living with a hangover of Marxist theory in education, especially through
social constructivist theories. On the whole this has been destructive, creating an
atmosphere of suspicion around any form of truth and authority, driven by ideological
certainty. However, Marxism is far from dead and the Marxist idea that everything
becomes commoditised, including knowledge and education, is useful in combating
the excesses of education and training aimed merely at increasing productivity. On the
positive side, the Victorian democratisation of education, that arose from the
industrial revolution, was transformed by Marxist and socialist ideas into a movement
that pushed for education as the right for every citizen. This struggle is still raging as
attempts are made to widen access to education and higher education across all socio-
economic groups.

Karl Marx, The Portable Karl Marx, ed. by Eugene Kamenka (Viking, 1983)

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, ed. by Frederic L. Bender (Norton, 1988)

Karl Marx, Early Writings, tr. by Rodney Livingstone (Penguin, 1992)

Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, tr. by Ben Fowkes (Penguin,

Terry Eagleton, Marx (Routledge, 1999)

Francis Wheen, Karl Marx (Fourth Estate 1999)
Gramsci (1891-1937)
                               In 32 notebooks, written over 11 years in an Italian
                               prison, Antonio Gramsci wasn‟t published in English
                               until the 70s. If you hear the word „hegemony‟ it‟s
                               likely to have come from someone who has read, or just
                               as likely not read but is unknowingly quoting, Gramsci.
                               Informal education along with defined roles of for
                               intellectuals and redefining schools, are all main themes
                               for Gramsci.

                               He was a Marxist who looked at cultural and
                               ideological forces in society. He took Marxism and
                               updated its theories in the light of 20th century evidence.
                               The physical conflict between the classes became a
mental conflict, where ideas were the weapons, perpetuated through institutions,
especially educational institutions. He was to have a great influence on radical
educational theorists such as Freire and Illich.

Power for the ruling classes, came not from force but ideological manipulation and
control. Schools and education played a major role in perpetuating this hegemony,
reinforcing the social norms of dominance and obedience. The fact that different
classes tend to have different schools was evidence that this dynamic was operative.
Schools, he thought, should give all pupils a common grounding, free from social
differences. However, he was no Rousseau-like romantic. Children, he recognised,
did not take naturally to learning. For this reason learning must fit the child.

Informal learning
Such schools would produce well-rounded participants in society, but also
intellectuals who would check the propensity of the ruling classes to assert and
reassert their ideological power. The educated individual could act critically to change
society and play a significant role in society. Education was therefore a powerful
torrent of ideas and action in a society with the capability of changing society for the
better. This was a powerful force in 20th century socialist thinking, where
intellectuals, and worker‟s education, were regarded as being at the vanguard of
working class consciousness and struggle.

Gramsci related Marxism directly to the institutions of education and saw them as
playing a key role in the ideological revolution. The role of intellectuals, not merely
academic, in changing society was also recognised. Many would argue that this sort
of academic Marxism had a deleterious effect on schooling, politicising education and
schools. Others would still argue that an egalitarian educational system is far from
realisation and that Gramscian ideas have huge currency in modern debates on
education and schooling. As with so much of this debate, the danger lies in the jargon
and dialogue on both sides of the debate.
Boggs, C. (1976) Gramsci’s Marxism. London: Pluto Press.

Entwistle, H. (1979). Antonio Gramsci: Conservative schooling for radical politics.
London: Routledge.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and

Carmel Borg et al (2003) Gramsci & Education Rowman & Littlefield
Althusser (1918-1990)

                            Despite the rather sad end to his life – he murdred his
                            wife and spent his last years in an asylum, Althuser, born
                            in Algiers attempted to reconcile Marxism with
                            structuralism. Like Gramsci, Althusser saw education as
                            the means by which the class system perpetuates itself,
                            stratifying people into workers, the petty bourgeoisie and
                            capitalists. School is a preparation for work and work is
                            the defining characteristic of submission and class.
                            Schools are a means of control by the ruling class and
                            capitalism. The appearance of a meritocracy in schools,
                            he thinks, masks the reality of ideological control.

Ideological State Apparatuses
Education is an Ideological State Apparatus ISA); schools, family, culture, political,
legal and unions. These must be distinguished from a Repressive State Apparatus
(RSA); army, police, prisons and courts.

Education, as the primary ISA, reproduces the ruling ideology. It does this through
grading and assessment, so that the individual strives to achieve what is set as
standards of achievement, yet in reality are merely state sponsored selection devices
for work and class roles.

He saw himself as providing an improved Marxist analysis of the role of education by
identifying it as an Ideological State Apparatus that controls rather than enlightens.
However, he avoids interpreting this as a conspiracy or planned phenomenon. It is
simply a function of a scientific Marxist analysis of capitalism.

There is some truth in this idea of education perpetuating the myth of ideological
positions but the theories are extremely abstract, and those who saw themselves as
changing the world through education were to be bitterly disappointed. It was they
who were seen to be clinging on to an ideology, which in itself has had its day. With
Althusser, Marxist theory in education had run its course. History, a much admired
Marxist tool, had proved them wrong.

Althusser, Louis. "Lenin and Philosophy" and Other Essays. London: New Left
Books, 1977.

Althusser, Louis. Reading Capital (The Verso Classics Series)

Althusser, Louis. For Marx (Verso Classics, 1)
Behaviourism was a school of psychology that grew from Pavlov‟s basic, conditioned
reflex theory through to more sophisticated forms of experimental studies in animal
and human behaviour in learning. Edward Thorndike (1874-1949), the
American animal psychologist, developed the theory of „trial and error‟ learning. This
he studied using animals in puzzle boxes to show how learning improves with
practice. John Watson (1878-1958) built on Pavlov's ideas to maintain that the reflex
was the basic unit of behaviour.

But it was B.F. Skinner who established it as the paradigmatic theory until the late
1950s. However, its influence continued, and continues to this day through the more
sophisticated theories of Albert Bandura and others. Skinner was keenly interested in
technology in education and many of the questions he posed are entirely relevant to
the e-learning we see today.
Pavlov (1849-1936)
                          Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, won the Nobel Prize
                          for his work on digestion in 1904. The father of
                          behaviourism, he identified conditioned reflexes in dogs
                          using pouches that collected their saliva.

                          This physiological response to external stimuli
                          (Conditioned reflexes) was to shape the study of learning
                          for most of the early and middle 20th century.

                         Positively, it resulted in the detailed study of innate and
                         conditioned stumulus-led behaviour. Negatively, it relied
too much on animal studies and ignored the importance of mental events.

Classical conditioning
Observing that dogs salivate as soon as they see their feeder or food, or smell the
food, Pavlov speculated on whether a natural stimulus could be associated with
another unrelated stimulus, eliciting the same response.

The experiment starts with an „unconditioned stimulus‟ (UCS) that causes a natural
response, namely the sight or smell of food that causes the dog to salivate, namely the
„unconditioned response‟ (UCR). If we then ring the bell, immediately followed by
food, repeated several times, after a time, the dog will salivate „conditioned response‟
(CR) at just the sound of the bell, the „conditioned stimulus‟ (CS). The dog has now
associated the bell with food.

If the experiment is reversed and no food accompanies the bell, the response
eventually disappears, this is called extinction.

In human terms we can see that this accounts for learning by association. Bandura and
others showed that this was a very much more complex affair than simple reflexes.
Advertising, for example, relies on such techniques. Interestingly, in terms of
learning, it doesn‟t require us to be taught by another human or to do anything.

This reflex learning was to form the basis of an entire school of psychology –
behaviourism. Pavlov was an excellent physiologist but physiology is not the same as
psychology. His work led to a rather mechanistic view of psychology, relying too
much on animal experiments, ultimately ignoring the sophistication of the brain and

Behaviourism had to cope with this and modified theories, known as S-O-R theories
(Stimulus-Organism-Response), recognised that the person's motivation and other
dispositions need to be taken into account.
Boakes, R. A. (1984). From Darwin to behaviourism. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Biography and lectures online

Interactive Pavov‟s dog learning game
Skinner (1904-1990)
                                  B.F. Skinner, the American psychologist, promoted
                                  pure behaviourism. Only observable phenomena are
                                  allowed as evidence, in this case stimuli and their
                                  behavioural responses. No mental events were to be
                                  considered admissible, as they were unobservable.
                                  His experimental work concentrated on animals and
                                  the famous Skinner Box, where rats had to press
                                  levers to get food. Although he was not averse to
                                  human experimentation, the claim that he raised his
                                  daughter in a "Skinner box" and that she sued her
                                  father ultimately committing suicide, is an urban

Operant conditioning
Learning, for Skinner was the ability of an organism to learn to operate in its
environment (operant conditioning). If a behaviour is reinforced through repeated
stimuli it is more likely to be repeated. An important facet of this theory is that
positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative reinforcement i.e. carrots are
better than sticks. A problem with relying just on observable behaviour is that what
one takes as evidence of reinforcement is the repeated behaviour itself. The evidence
is therefore self-fulfilling. Withdrawing a reinforced behaviour also leads to the
extinction of the behaviour.

Teaching machines and Programmed Instruction
Skinner was profoundly affected when he witnessed poor teaching in his daughter‟s
maths class. The teacher, he thought, was violating almost everything we know about
learning. Rather than adapting to the ability of the child, they were being forced
through sheets of problems with no immediate feedback on each problem. The teacher
was clearly not shaping any of the 20-30 children in the class. They clearly required
help in reinforcement.

That same afternoon he built his „teaching machine‟, allowing learners to practice
already learnt skills. Within three years he had developed programmed instruction,
which broke material down into small steps, and as performance improved, less and
less support was provided. As this was before the age of computers, most of this was
produced in books, where getting the answers was all too easy. His article Tecahing
Machines published in Science (1958) is still a relevant read today and in 1968 he
published The Technology of Teaching, a collection of writings on technology and
education. His analysis of what sequencing and feedback was required was way ahead
of his time and technology.

Behaviourism and social engineering
One unfortunate consequence of his strict behaviourism was the development of the
technology of conditioning; "teaching machines" and other techniques to shape
human behaviour on contraception and so on. Walden Two (1961) was an attempt to
describe and prescribe this behaviourist utopia in the form of a novel, interestingly,
this was to creep into parenting manuals and other social engineering. It is worryingly
fascist. There are still elements of this in social engineering policies and techniques
practiced by governments today. All attempts to put Walden Two into practice
failed. One commune is still going in Mexico, but the link is no longer active!

The weaknesses of behaviourism are now well known. Obsessively ignoring all
internal, cognitive mental events led to a relevant, but narrow account of learning. As
the post-coital behaviourist couple joke goes, „That was great for you, how was it for
me‟. Its over-dependence on external stimuli along with a tendency to take animal
experiments and extend them to humans led to a suffocating, straightjacketed view of
psychology. In The Behaviour of Organisms, only two were mentioned; rats and
pigeons. This reliance on animal experimentation was far too narrow. To ignore the
brain and internal events was to ignore the vast amount of evidence now available to
experimental and evolutionary psychologists. We have motivation, emotions,
instincts, beliefs, memory and many other facets of the brain which show that it is far
from being a blank slate, etched by the environment. Skinner‟s behaviourism is now
dead in psychology, initially by Chomsky, who showed that behaviourism could not
account for language learning. However its modern form, associatism, a learning
theory used by most neural network theorists, lives on. The danger is still to base
government policy on the idea that the brain is a totally malleable entity waiting for
the appropriate stimuli and reinforcement.


Skinner, B. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms

Skinner, B. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: MacMillan.

Skinner, B. (1961, repr. 1976). Walden Two

Skinner, B. (1968). TheTechnology of Teaching. New York: Appleton-Crofts.

Skinner, B. (1971). Beyond Freedom and Dignity

Skinner, B. (1974, repr. 1976). About Behaviorism

Skinner Foundation

Urban myth about Skinner‟s box.
                        Albert Bandura is a Canadian psychologist, who has been
                        teaching at Stanford since 1953. Although steeped in, and
                        influenced by, behaviourism, his theories transcend
                        traditional behaviourism into what was called "Social
                        Learning Theory", although he now calls it "Social Cognitive
                        Theory". The dropping of the word „learning‟ is significant.

                        Bandura‟s awareness of the personal factors in learning,
                        especially motivation, differentiates him from traditional
                        behaviourism. He also forms a link to those theorists who
                        emphasise social learning, such as Vygotsky.

Observational learning
Bandura has often been seen as a bridge between behaviourism and cognitive
psychology. Bandura moves us beyond classical and operant conditioning claiming
that we also learn by observation. This is not to say that we learn violent behaviour
from observation or exposure to violence as we may acquire the behaviour but not
perform that behaviour. We may not perform because we know the consequences.

Bandura sees learning as the acquisition of behaviours. We see others and model our
behaviour on this observation. Learning by watching involves the observation of a
model, which is then duplicated. This may involve no teaching at all.

Observational learning is influenced by:

   1. Attention – you must be cognitively attentive to learn
   2. Retention, coding, and storing the patterns so they can be retrieved.
   3. Motor reproduction - kinaesthetic and neuromuscular patterns are practiced
      with until the model's behaviour is learnt.
   4. Motivation and reinforcement – to push the learner to practice and retain
      knowledge and skills.

Modelling theory
Modelling Theory operates in three steps.

   1. You observe a model.
   2. You imitate the model's actions.
   3. You get a consequence.

But there‟s far more to the theory than this suggests. The content of the learner‟s
perceptions of the learning are also important. Learning may also involve the active
coding of the learnt behaviour into words, diagrams or images. Learners are also more
motivated to learn behaviours they admire and value.
In training he has been responsible for the emphasis on behaviour modeling. This was
widely used in video training programmes but also in other training delivery channels.
His theories go some way towards explaining violent behaviour and responses to
advertising and Bandura has explored these experimentally. The theory is still
essentially behaviourist with some motivational and social dimensions which means
that it underplays other more participative forms of learning.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart
& Winston.

Bandura, A. & Walters, R. (1963). Social Learning and Personality Development.
New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1962). Social learning through imitation. In M. Jones (Ed.), Nebraska
symposium on motivation (pp. 211-269). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Excellent biography
There are some thinkers who pop up outside of the system and whose thoughts are so
different that they defy classification. Maslow decided to look at learning from the
wider perspective of needs. Rogers built on the psychotherapy tradition a respect for
counselling and the learner as the focus for active learning. Illich remains the most
lucid critic of schooling and schools. All three, especially Rogers and Illich have had
a deep influence on educational thought, and in Rogers case, teaching and training
practice. Gardener looks inside and takes evolutionary arguments to show that we
have multiple intelligences. He is one of a breed of newer psychologists, like Stephen
Pinker, who are not afraid to question the blank slate theories of the past and posit
alternatives, enlightened by evolutionary theory.
Maslow (1908 - 1970)
                       Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist, claimed that
                       organisms prioritise needs. He stripped learning and training
                       back to basic human needs and desires in an attempt to
                       understand what motivates people to learn.

                       Hi hierarchy is often hauled into training programmes without
                       any real understanding of why and whether the theory is indeed
                       correct beyond some simple truisms.

Hierarchy of needs
He then created a hierarchy of needs, with five layers:

Needs                                         Description
Physiological needs                           Thirst, food, sleep, warmth, activity,
                                              avoiding pain, and sex
Safety and security needs                     Shelter, stability, protection, salary,
Love and belonging needs                      Friends, partner, children, relationships
                                              and community
Esteem needs                                  Respect, status, reputation, dignity. Self-
                                              respect, confidence and achievement.
Self-actualization                            Aspirational need, the desire to fulfil your

The first four are all „deficit‟ or „D-needs‟. If they are not present, you‟ll feel their
absence and yearn for them. When each is satisfied you reach a state of homeostasis
where the yearning stops. All of these are survival needs and mostly genetic.
The last, self-actualisation, does not involve homeostasis, but once felt is always
there. Maslow saw this as applying to a tiny number of people, whose basic four
levels are satisfied leaving them free to look beyond their deficit needs. He used a
qualitative technique called „biographical analysis‟. He looked at high achievers and
found that they enjoyed solitude, close relationships with a few rather than many,
autonomy and resist social norms. Spontaneity, simplicity and respect for others were
other characteristics.

Maslow has been very influential in training. Part of his appeal is his basic, human
approach to motivation through needs. In practice, his work was never really tested
experimentally. The self-actualisation theory is perhaps a step too far and now
regarded as of little real relevance. A more worrying aspect of the theory is its
prioritisation. It is not at all clear that the higher needs cannot be fulfilled until the
lower needs are satisfied. There are many counter-examples where people fulfil
higher creative needs while living is the most extreme conditions and circumstances.
Indeed, creativity can atrophy and die on the back of success. In the end a sort of
periodic table for human qualities proved difficult and over-simplistic.

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.

Maslow, A. (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. New York: The Viking

Maslow, A., & Lowery, R. (Ed.). (1998). Toward a psychology of being (3rd ed.).
New York: Wiley & Sons.
Rogers (1902 - 1987)
                           Carl Rogers is known as the founder of 'client-centred'
                           therapy and his promotion of counselling.

                           He also had a keen interest in education and his therapy-
                           oriented methods became widely adopted in education and
                           training through coaching, mentoring and other student-
                           centred Socratic techniques.

                           Roger‟s influence can be felt everywhere in modern
                           learning with from open questioning techniques by tutors to
                           counselling itself in schools and the workplace.

Facilitation of learning
Influenced by Dewey, he emphasised the relationship between learner and facilitator.
As early as 1951 Rogers had looked at 'student-centred teaching' in Client-Centered
Therapy (1951: 384-429). There he claimed that teaching is really facilitation and that
we must allow the learner to relax to learn and feel free from any form of threat

Freedom to Learn (1969:83: 93) takes counselling principles and applies them to
education. It explores facilitation and person-centred learning in schools. It was a
collection of papers that describe preparation, creating an environment of trust and
provocative input to stimulate discussion.

Facilitation involved certain qualities and attitudes and realness in the facilitator of
learning. The facilitator must treat the learner with genuine respect and open up as
one person genuinely communicating with another. When the mask of the
professional or expert drops, facilitation is at its most effective. Facilitators must be
themselves, in direct person-to-person encounters. More than this realness, is a feeling
of prizing the learner, without being condescending. It is this, along with an
acceptance that it‟s fine to not know things, that promotes trust. Empathy, in the sense
of understanding what is going on in the mind of the learner, seeing it from their
perspective, is another feature of good facilitation. Learner‟s need to be understood,
not just judged.

Rogers's influence on therapy, counselling and education is enormous. The general
tone of learning through facilitation was set by him and continues to this day in a sort
of counsellor/teacher role. This has been positive on the one side, but also has
negative consequences. Facilitated learning may benefit more from the honest
dissolution of misconceptions rather than an abundance of empathy. Unfortunately,
the therapy-oriented techniques aimed at troubled minds do not always apply to
people who simply want to learn. Not knowing something is not an illness to be cured
by therapy. Many learners also want a less moderated approach to learning. Dialogue
may be more appropriate than pure empathy. In counselling, the idea that the client
knew more than the counsellor became the prevalent model. Unfortunately, this
extreme form of the Socratic method is difficult in learning, where by definition, the
learner doesn‟t have the knowledge or skill to start with.


Rogers, C. R. (1961) On Becoming a Person. A therapist's view of psychotherapy,
Boston: Houghton Mifflin (1967 - London: Constable).

Rogers, C. (1970) Encounter Groups, New York: Harper and Row; London: Penguin.

Rogers, C. R. (1980) A Way of Being, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. and Freiberg, H. J. (1993) Freedom to Learn (3rd edn.), New York:

Furedi, F. (2004) Therapy Culture Routledge.

Kirschenbaum, H. (1979) On Becoming Carl Rogers, New York: Delacorte Press.
Illich (1926-2002)
                               Ivan Illich is famous in educational theory for his
                               seminal text Deschooling Society. „Schooling‟ for Illich
                               confuses teaching with learning, grades with education,
                               diplomas with competence, attendance with attainment.
                               Schools are unworldly and lead to psychological
                               impotence. We become hooked on school to the extent
                               that other institutions are discouraged from assuming
                               educational tasks. Schooling seems to teach us to
                               accept, not our strengths but our alleged deficiencies.

It is all based on an illusion, he claims, the illusion that most learning is the result of
teaching. Most people acquire most of their knowledge outside of school. Most
learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of
programmed instruction. Most learning is, in fact, a by-product of some other activity
defined as work or leisure.

His attack on schooling is on three fronts:

1. Age – grouping according to age
2. Teachers and pupils – that learning is the result of teaching
3. Full-time attendance – incarceration of the young

Adults tend to romanticise their schooling, yet most, when pushed, recognise the
smothering atmosphere of the classroom. Even the greatest fan of schools and
schooling will recognise that the school has remained largely unchanged since
Victorian times. Walk into a school today and you‟ll recognise the classrooms, desks,
terms, prefects, rituals, curricula, bells, corridors, timetables, prize givings and
reports. It will be all too familiar.

Educational exchange
Illich sees skills-centres, educational credits and the „possible use of technology to
create institutions which serve personal, creative and autonomous interaction”. Well
before the age of the internet he foresaw its power in education and knowledge he saw
an alternative to schooling through a network or service which gave each person the
same opportunity to share his/her concern with others motivated by the same concern.
His core idea was that education for all means education by all.

He sees us providing the learner with new links to the world instead of continuing to
funnel all education through the teacher. In this sense, the inverse of school is
possible, recommending four types of educational resource:

1. Reference services to Educational Objects
2. Skill exchanges
3. Peer-matching
4. Reference services to Educators-at-large

His critique of the University system is as fierce as that of schools. He sees them as
having betrayed their original values, becoming the „final stage of the most all-
encompassing initiation rite the world has ever seen‟. In practice, it is here that
students redouble their resistance to teaching as they find themselves more
comprehensively manipulated. This, along with unlimited opportunities for
legitimised waste and the rising costs makes them ripe for reform.

Once exposed to intense „schooling‟ it is very difficult to free oneself from school and
the expectations it sets. He is also right in noticing that this re-emergence of values
comes through in educational reform where we revile modern schools then proceed to
propose new schools. He also resists the idea of turning our entire culture into a
school through „lifelong learning‟ and attacks the teacher-as-therapist culture. Let us
not push out the walls of the classroom until they envelop everything we do in our

Ivan Illich has had a huge influence on educational thought. I say „thought‟, because
his ideas are only now beginning to bear fruit. His critique of schools is as applicable
today and some his solutions, such as learning webs, were prescient.


Illich, Ivan (1973a) Deschooling Society, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Illich, Ivan (1973b) Celebration of Awareness. A call for institutional revolution,
Harmondsworth Penguin.

Illich, Ivan (1975a) Tools for Conviviality, London: Fontana.

Illich, Ivan (1976) After Deschooling, What?, London: Writers and Readers
Publishing Co-operative.

Reimer, E. (1971) School is Dead. An essay on alternatives in education,
Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Excellent profile and summary of thought

Full text of Deschooling Society
Gardner (1943 - )
                     Howard Gardner‟s theory of multiple intelligences is opposed to
                     the idea of intelligence being a single measurable attribute. His is
                     a direct attack on the practice of psychometric tests. His is a
                     direct attack on behaviourism, relying more on genetic,
                     instinctual and evolutionary arguments to build a picture of the
                     mind. He also disputes the Piaget notion of fixed developmental
                     stages, claiming that a child can be at various stages of
                     development across different intelligences.

Multiple intelligences
Howard Gardner viewed intelligence as 'the capacity to solve problems or to fashion
products that are valued in one or more cultural setting' (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). He
reviewed the literature using eight criteria or 'signs' of an intelligence:

   1.   Potential isolation by brain damage.
   2.   The existence of idiots savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals.
   3.   An identifiable core operation or set of operations.
   4.   A distinctive development history, along with a definable set of 'end-state'
   5.   An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility.
   6.   Support from experimental psychological tasks.
   7.   Support from psychometric findings.
   8.   Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system.

These criteria were used to identify a list of seven „intelligences‟. His thoughts on
what constitute intelligence have developed over time. The first two are ones that
have been typically valued in schools; the next three are usually associated with the
arts; and the final two are what Howard Gardner called 'personal intelligences'.

Intelligence                                 Description
   1. Linguistic intelligence                To learn, use and be sensitive to
   2. Logical-mathematical intelligence      Analysis, maths, science and
                                             investigative abilities.
   3. Musical intelligence                   Perform, compose and appreciate music,
                                             specifically pitch, tone and rhythm.
   4. Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence       Co-ordination and use of whole or parts
                                             of body.
   5. Spatial intelligence                   Recognise, use and solve spatial
                                             problems both large and confined.
   6. Interpersonal intelligence             Ability to read others‟ intentions,
                                             motivations, desires and feelings.
   7. Intrapersonal intelligence             Self-knowledge and ability to understand
                                             and use one‟s inner knowledge.
   8. Naturalist intelligence                Ability to draw upon the immediate
                                             environment to make judgements.
It‟s important to understand that these intelligences operate together and complement
each other. He has described people as having blends of intelligences.

Application of the theory
The Unschooled Mind, Intelligence Reframed, and The Disciplined Mind look at how
the theory may be applied by educators. This has led to a broader more holistic view
of education, being less rigid in curricula. More awareness of different intelligences
needs to be backed up with teacher awareness, a push towards high quality work,
more collaboration between teachers of different disciplines, better and more
meaningful curriculum choices and a wider use of the arts.

Gardiner has more appeal to educators looking for reasons to change the curriculum
rather than serious experimental psychology. He has come under attack from those
who believe there is a general intelligence quotient. Others do not see his
„intelligences‟ as a comparable set of abilities, as some such as musical intelligence,
do not have the same consequential impact as others. He has also been criticised for
not testing his theories experimentally and failing to identify exactly why he chose his
particular criteria for intelligence.

What is clear is that Gardiner has opened up the debate and affected real practices in
educational institutions around the whole person with a spread of subjects and
approaches to learning. This fits teachers‟ intuitive feel for the abilities of those they
teach. While the theory may be rather speculative, his identified intelligences
represent real dispositions, abilities, talents and potential, which schooling, if it is too
narrow, simply ignores. Project SUMIT (Schools Using Multiple Intelligences
Theory) claims to have identified real progress across the board in schools that have
been sensitive to Gardiner‟s theories.


Gardner, Howard (1983; 1993) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences,
New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, Howard (1989) To Open Minds: Chinese clues to the dilemma of
contemporary education, New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1991) The Unschooled Mind: How children think and how schools
should teach, New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, Howard (1999) Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st
century, New York: Basic Books.

White, J. (1998) Do Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences add up? London:
Institute of Education, University of London.
Constructivists saw the learner as an active constructer of knowledge and skills. It is a
dynamic process and instructional strategies must be aware of the role of the
instructor as helping the learner build on their existing knowledge. Learning,
therefore, and to relate to their existing state, cognitive and social. Piaget was
concerned with cognitive development and how teaching and learning needs to be
sensitive to learner development, especially children. Bruner, although an original
thinker in his own right, introduced Vygotsky, who has had a serious and on-going
influence in educational circles. However, their focus on social context at times
distracts from the real task at hand, learning and the learner.
Piaget (1896-1980)
                          Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, claimed that cognitive
                          development proceeds in four genetically determined
                          stages, and that they always follow the same sequential
                          order. This theory of child development, he called "genetic
                          epistemology", and it saw the minds of children as very
                          different from those of adults. The growth and
                          development of a child depends on a succession of
                          cognitive structures that build one upon the other into
                          adulthood. Importantly, this perception must be taken into
                          account in teaching and learning.

Four cognitive structures (development stages)

 Development stages        Age      Description
 1. Sensorimotor           0-2      Intelligence takes form of motor actions
 2. Preoperations          3-7      Intelligence intuitive in nature
 3. Concrete operations    8-11     Intelligence logical but needs concrete referents
 4. Formal operations      12-15    Thinking involves abstractions

Of course, each of these stages had a more granular structure. Piaget explored these
individual capabilities in some detail. His emphasis on mathematical and analytic task
experimentation has been criticized as being a little narrow. However, this, he saw as
a good indicator of general cognitive development. Piaget‟s learning theory is
sensitive to the fact that children will have different perceptions of reality and
expectations depending on their stage of development. The teacher must be aware of
this and use appropriate techniques to develop the child through assimilation and
accommodation. This means not pushing learners beyond their inherent cognitive
capabilities. Lastly, one must use active engagement to challenge learners.

He has been associated with the work of Vygotsky, although they differ in several key
respects. Habermas and Papert have also made expensive use of his theories in theor
own work.

Piaget was the dominant force in child psychology but many of his claims are now
subject to a critique from Bruner, Vygotsky and other constructivists who see a more
malleable developmental picture. However, on the whole, his sensitivity to age and
cognitive development did lead to a more measured and appropriate use of
educational techniques that matched the true cognitive capabilities of children.


Piaget, J. (1929). The Child's Conception of the World. NY: Harcourt, Brace
Piaget, J. (1932). The Moral Judgement of the Child. NY: Harcourt, Brace

Piaget, J. (1969). The Mechanisms of Perception. London: Rutledge & Kegan Paul.

Paiget, J. (1970). The Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child. NY:

Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1969). The Psychology of the Child. NY: Basic Books.

Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1973). Memory and intelligence. NY: Basic Books.

Bybee, R.W. & Sund, R.B. (1982). Piaget for Educators (2nd Ed). Columbus, OH:
Charles Merrill.

Jean Piaget Society
                       Jerome Bruner has long been in favour of educational reform.
                       The Process of Education (1960) laid out his general views on
                       the subject, Bruner is still an active writer and his books
                       continue to win acclaim. The Culture of Education (1997) he
                       makes an appeal for a broad based culture of learning beyond
                       the narrow confines of traditional schooling.

                        Influenced by Vygotsky he emphasises the role of the teacher,
                        language and instruction. He thought that different processes
                        were used by learners in problem solving and that these vary
from person to person and that social interaction lay at the root of good learning. He
wrote an introduction to Vygotsky‟s Thought and Language in 1962. The background
to his theories on instruction is based on a social constructivist view of development
based on the gradual exposure to socially mediated narratives and explanations.

Theory of Instruction
Jerome Bruner is a social constructivist, in the sense that he sees learning as a
dynamic process where learners construct or build knowledge, based on their existing
knowledge. This is an active process of selection, construction and decision-making
that builds on existing mental models. It is this that brings meaning to the new
knowledge allowing the learner to move beyond their existing structures.

Bruner builds on the Socratic tradition of learning through dialogue, encouraging the
learner to come to enlighten themselves through reflection. Careful curriculum design
is essential so that one area builds upon the other.

His theory of instruction addresses four principles:

   1. Readiness. The learner must have a predisposition to learn and so their
      experiences and context must be considered.
   2. Structure. The content must be structured so that it can be grasped by the
   3. Sequence. Material must be presented in the most effective sequences.
   4. Generation. Good learning should encourage extrapolation, manipulation and
      a filling in the gaps, just beyond the learners existing knowledge.

Bruner, like Vygotsky, focuses on the social and cultural aspects of learning.
His suggests that people learn with meaning and personal significance in mind, not
just through attention to the facts. Knowledge and memory are therefore constructed.
Learning must therefore be a process of discovery where learners build their own
knowledge, with the active dialogue of teachers, building on their existing knowledge.

Bruner, J. (1960). The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University

Bruner, J. (1966). Toward a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.

Bruner, J. (1973). Going Beyond the Information Given. New York: Norton.

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.

Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bruner, J. (1996). The Culture of Education, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Vygotsky (1896-1934)
                            Lev Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist has a psychology
                            clearly rooted in the dialectical historicism of Hegel and
                            Marx. It was his focus on the role of language, and the
                            way it shapes our learning and thought, that defined his
                            social psychology and learning theory. Behaviour is
                            shaped by the context of a culture, and schools reflect that
                            culture. He goes further driving social influence right
                            down to the level of interpersonal interactions. Then even
                            further, these interpersonal interactions mediate the
                            development of children‟s higher mental functions, such
                            as thinking, reasoning, problem solving, memory, and
                            language. He took larger dialectical themes and applied
                            them to interpersonal communication and learning.

                            Learning theory
Psychology becomes sociology as all psychological phenomena are seen as social
constructs. In this respect he reversed Piaget‟s position that development comes first
and learning second. Vygotsky puts learning before development.

Very specifically he prescribes a method of instruction that keeps the learner in the
Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This is the difference between what can be
known on one‟s own and what can potentially be known. To progress, one must
interact with peers who are ahead of the game through social interaction, a dialectical
process between learner and peer.

The oft-quoted, rarely read Vygotsky appeals to those who see instruction as a
necessary condition for learning and sociologists who see culture and learning as a
hugely determinant factor in learning. As a pre-Chomskian linguist, his theories of
language are dated and still rooted in now discredited dialectical materialism.


Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J.V. (1985). Cultural, Communication, and Cognition: Vygotskian
Perspectives. Cambridge University Press.

Van der Veer, R., & Valsiner, J. (1991). Understanding Vygotsky: A Quest for
Synthesis. Oxford: Blackwell.

Archive including downloadable translated texts.
Learning taxonomists
Just three years before behaviourism was to receive its fatal blow from Noam
Chomsky, Bloom published his now famous taxonomy of learning. Few realise that
this taxonomy is now 50 years old. There have been lots of taxonomies since then,
many variations on existing categories.
                        Benjamin Bloom, in 1956, published the first attempt to
                        classify learning behaviours and provide concrete measures
                        for identifying different levels of learning. His taxonomy
                        includes three overlapping domains;

                            1. Cognitive (knowledge)
                            2. psychomotor (skills)
                            3. affective (attitude)

                        It was devised to assist teachers to classify educational goals
and plan and evaluate learning experiences.

Six levels of learning
This domain consisted of six levels, each with specific learning behaviours and
descriptive verbs that could be used when writing instructional objectives.

Cognitive learning
 Knowledge             Observation and recall of information
                       Knowledge of dates, events, places
                       Knowledge of major ideas
                       Mastery of subject matter
                       Verbs: list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect,
                        examine, tabulate, quote, name, who, when, where, etc
 Comprehension         Understanding information
                       Grasp meaning
                       Translate knowledge into new concept
                       Interpret facts, compare, contrast
                       Order, group, infer causes
                       Predict consequences
                       Verbs: summarise, interpret, contrast, predict, associate,
                        distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend, etc
 Application           Use information
                       Use methods, concepts, theories in new situations
                       Solve problems using required skills or knowledge
                       Verbs: apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate,
                        show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify,
                        experiment, discover, etc
 Analysis              Seeing patterns
                       Organising of parts
                       Recognition of hidden meanings
                       Identification of components
                       Verbs: analyse, separate, order, explain, connect, classify,
                        arrange, divide, compare, select, explain, infer, etc
 Synthesis             Use old ideas to create new ones
                       Generalise from given facts
                          Relate knowledge from several areas
                          Predict, raw conclusions
                          Verbs: combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan,
                           create, design, invent, what if?, compose, formulate, prepare,
                           generalise, rewrite, etc
 Evaluation               Compare and discriminate between ideas
                          Assess value of theories and presentations
                          Make choices based on reasoned argument
                          Verify value of evidence
                          Recognise subjectivity
                          Verbs: assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend,
                           convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support,
                           conclude, compare, summarise, etc

Psychomotor Learning
 Reflex           Objectives not usually set at this basic level

 Fundamental              Applicable mostly to young children
 movements                Descriptive verbs: crawl, run, jump, change direction, etc.
 Perceptual               Descriptive verbs: catch, write, balance, distinguish,
 abilities                manipulate, etc.
 Physical abilities       Descriptive verbs: stop, increase, move quickly, change, react,
 Skilled                  Descriptive verbs: play, hit, swim, dive, use, etc
 Non-discursive           Descriptive verbs: express, create, mime, design, interpret, etc.

Affective Learning
 Attitudes of awareness, interest, attention, concern, and responsibility

 Ability to listen and respond in interactions with others

 Ability to demonstrate those attitudinal characteristics, or values, which are
 appropriate to the situation and field of study

Bloom, being the first to really establish a working taxonomy of learning, had to have
his theories extended as people realised that the tripartite classification was too
narrow. The cognitive, psychomotor and affective distinction is still widely used
today, which is either a testimony to Bloom‟s vision, or a tendency for the training
world to become stuck in old models. His taxonomy was at least a start, which
ultimately led to a more professional approach to instructional practice.


Bloom, B.S. (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of
educational goals: Handbook I, cognitive domain. Longmans, Green.
J Biggs & Collis, published „Evaluating the Quality of Learning – the SOLO
taxonomy‟ (1982). Taking output from hundreds of learners of different ages, across a
range of different subjects, they identified consistent sets of learner output. They put
this into a five-stage taxonomy, claiming that it applies to any content.

Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO)
1 Pre-structural      Learners acquire bits of unconnected information, which have
                      no organisation and make no sense
                      Typical written work: Doesn‟t address the question/task, at best
                      restates the question, a series of unrelated facts, uses only small
                      amount of information available, rarely reaches conclusion.
2 Uni-structural      Learners make simple and obvious connections, but show little
                      evidence that their significance has been grasped
                      Typical written work: Addresses the question in a limited way,
                      rarely makes explicit links between bits of information, writes in
                      a descriptive fashion, when a conclusion is reached it is done
                      quickly based on very little information.
3 Multi-structural    Learners make a number of connections, but meta-connections
                      between them are missed, as is their significance for the whole
                      Typical written work: Uses two or more pieces of data or
                      information, often orders the data but fails to explain links
                      between different sets of data, ignores any inconsistencies, some
                      simple recognition of cause and effect.
4 Relational          Learners appreciate the significance of the parts in relation to
                      the whole
                      Typical written work: Begins to link data/information in
                      coherent fashion, reaches conclusions that are consistent with
                      available data, begins to make connections between different
                      sets of data and to theorise/offer explanations, uses most of
                      information available, makes cause and effect judgements.
5 Extended            Learners make connections both within and beyond the subject
abstract              area showing they are able to generalise and transfer the
                      principles and ideas
                      Typical written work: Includes information and concepts that
                      were not „givens‟, number of possible hypotheses considered,
                      assumptions made based on deductive reasoning, a number of
                      plausible explanations without feeling the need to reach a firm
                      conclusion – instead, justifies a number of possible outcomes.

This is a useful model but in reality, learners and learning may be a little less layered
and form a more complex set of relationships across these layers. However, it can be
useful to judge a learner‟s progress with reference to these five stages of learning. As
a grand theory it has its place, as a practical model for design it is too general.

Biggs (1982) „Evaluating the Quality of Learning – the SOLO taxonomy’
Stefan Wills took Bateson‟s levels of learning and expanded them (1994) into a
taxonomy that contained three types of learning.

Type 1               Learning that occurs as a direct consequence of absorbing
Cerebral Learning    factual information, which has an immediate relevance but does
                     not have any long-term effect on the learner‟s view of the world
                     or personal identity.

                     Type 1 learning is highly dependent on effective memory
Type 2               Learning that occurs as a result of building on the absorption of
Skills-based         factual information, so that behaviour changes and becomes
Behavioural          transferable from the present situation to another. The learner
Learning             therefore changes their conception about a particular aspect of
                     their world in general, although it remains situation-specific.

                     Type 2 learning therefore results in concrete but superficial and
                     situation-specific behaviour changes.

Type 3               Learning that occurs when the learner becomes conscious of
Transformational     their conceptions of the world in general, how they are formed
Learning             and how they might change them, and ultimately becomes
                     aware of the effects these changes may have on personal
                     identity or development of the self. This kind of learning is not
                     situation-specific and comparatively rare. It implies a whole-
                     person process where the learner becomes conscious of a
                     change in who they are.

Will S. (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind
                       Meredith Belbin is famous for his team building theory,
                       defining optimal teams and team roles.

                       His 1998 taxonomy matches learning objectives to learning
                       methods. It has six types of learning. Interestingly he adds
                       procedural and interpersonal skills.

Comprehension            An understanding of concepts and principles.
knowledge                Objective: To develop general understanding.

Reflex skills            The acquisition of skilled movements and perceptual
                         Objective: To produce fast and reliable patterns of response
                         or manipulation.

Attitude development     Changing or improving attitudes towards people, objects or
                         Objective: To change or develop new attitudes.

Memorisation             Memorising information that has to be recalled without
                         reference to source material.
                         Objective: To remember specific facts and figures.

Procedural learning      Following simple routines from memory or more complex
                         routines from manuals.
                         Objective: To acquaint the learner with a range of

Interpersonal skills     The acquisition of skills which enable effective interactions
                         between people.
                         Objective: To develop effective interpersonal skills

Team building

The first really heavyweight psychologist to look at how instruction is related to
memory was the mighty Ebbinghaus, the first to seriously and scientifically dissect
memory. His findings are directly relevant to instructional design over a century later.
Much later we have the massively influential Gagne in the 60s and Mager in the 70s.
These two are firmly rooted in traditional taxonomies of learning and behavioural
objectives. Their recommendations, although sensible, don‟t say much about
sophisticated instructional methods for skills.

Some would argue that they have held back the cause of good design by focusing too
much on „objectives‟. I tend to agree with Schank when he says that, „Learning
objectives is a phrase that literally makes my stomach turn when I hear it….Learning
objectives tend to trivialise complex issues by making them into sound bites that can
be told and then tested to see whether you were listening‟.
Ebbinghaus (1850-1909)
                      Hermann Ebbinghaus, published a landmark book in 1885,
                      Uber das Gedachtis (On Memory), translated into English in
                      1913. He put the study of memory on a sure scientific footing
                      using rigorous experiments, exploring retention and the effects
                      of sequencing and patterns of practice on memory. Indeed,
                      most subsequent research into learning and memory has been
                      footnotes to his work. The whole idea of forgetting is still all
                      too absent in education and training with little or no real
                      attention given to reinforcement methods.

Decay from memory
In perhaps his most famous experiment, trying to remember syllable lists, he found
that after certain periods he remembered only a percentage of the original:

 Time                                        Recall
 20 mins                                     58%
 1 hour                                      44%
 24 hours                                    34%
 31 days                                     21%

His was the first learning curve. In other words, within a month nearly 80% of the
learned content had been lost. But the real lesson was that most of the loss came in the
first few minutes. The distinction between short and long-term memory was made,
and it became clear that successful learning had to push knowledge from short to
long-term memory to be successful. Of course, it is not simply a matter of practice
and reinforcement, related meaning and the organisation of the material are also

Distributed practice
A less well known, but just as significant, discovery was the benefits of distributed
practice. Distributed practice is spread out over a period of time, whereas massed
practice takes place in one session. The spacing out of practice seems to avoid fatigue
effects and lead to more consolidation of memory. Consolidation seems to be optimal
after about 20 minutes, suggesting that we should practice and reinforce learning after
15-20 minutes.

Primacy and recency
Ebbinghaus also discovered the serial position effect. In remembering lists, he
observed that people are far more likely to remember items at the start and end of
lists. These effects are called primacy and regency. It depends on the nature of the
material, the relationship between the material and users approach to learning, but by
and large the principle is that material from both ends of a learning experience are
retained more than the stuff in the middle. This has been confirmed many times since.
Take the example of the Presidents of the US. Most people remember Washington
and the more recent Reagan, Clinton and Bush. Incidentally, many people also
remember Abraham Lincoln, confirming another psychological effect in learning, the
von Rector effect (1933). He found that the more something stands out from the
crowd, the easier it is to remember.

In a specific experiment by E.J Thomas in Studies in Adult Education (1972), it was
found that there was a massive dip in attention and recall from the middle of lectures.
In other words, in lectures and the classroom the effects of primacy and recency are
profound. The strength of opening events and summaries has long been recognised in
the design of learning materials.

Some argue that learning theory is fundamentally memory theory. Ebbinghaus was
the first great experimental investigator into memory, using nonsense syllables to
study learning and forgetting across time. Most of the major findings in this area were
covered by him and many of his central conclusions remain true and instructive. Of
course, there have been many refinements in memory theory and learning and his
investigations really only apply to simple rote learning. Other semantic issues also
matter along with attention, motivation and other psychological factors.

Ebbinghaus, Hermann (1885). Translation of Memory: A Contribution to
Experimental Psychology

Gagne (1916 - 2002)
                        Robert M Gagne, a behaviourist by background and
                        inclination, also took an interest in the information processing
                        view of learning and memory.

                        The Conditions of Learning was published in 1965 outlining
                        his learning theory. Then, in 1968, an article called Learning
                        Hierarchies, followed by Domains of Learning in 1972. In
                        these texts he developed his five categories of learning and a
                        universal method for instruction defined in nine instructional

Five categories of learning
Gagne‟s theory has five categories of learning:

 Intellectual Skills    Demonstrated by classifying things and problem solving
 Cognitive strategies   Demonstrated by their use and appropriate application
 Verbal information     Demonstrated by stating the information accurately
 Motor skills           Demonstrated by physical performance
 Attitudes              Demonstrated by preferring options

Nine instructional events
He insisted on a single method of instruction that can be applied to all five categories
of learning. These instructional events were to be the bedrock for good instructional
design. You were expected to move through them step by step like a recipe.

 1 Gaining attention                To get the learner into an expectant state

 2 Stating the objective            To get the learner to understand what they will be
                                    able to do as a result of the instruction
 3 Stimulating recall of prior      To get the learner to appreciate that they posses
 learning                           existing relevant knowledge
 4 Presenting the stimulus          To expose the learner to the content
 5 Providing learning guidance      To get the learner to understand the content

 6 Eliciting performance            To get the learner to demonstrate what they have
 7 Providing feedback               To inform the learner about their performance

 8 Assessing performance            To reinforce the learning

 9 Enhancing retention and          To get the learner to indulge in varied practice and
 transfer to other contexts         to generalise the new capability
He was one of the few learning theorists who provided some simple and practical
advice on instructional design, which in some way accounts for his success. Although
his instructional model is not applicable to all types of learning, he brought a certain
method to design which produced lots of solid learning design and content.

Gagne, R. M. (1965). The Conditions of Learning, New York: Holt, Rinehart &
                       Robert Mager published the second edition of his book
                       Preparing Instructional Objectives in 1975. His Criterion
                       Referenced Instruction (CRI), an extension of Gagne‟s method
                       of instruction, was a method for the design and delivery of

                       All of this led to a more concentrated approach to design based
                       on competences and assessment focused on learning or
                       performance objectives.

Learning objectives
Learning objectives determine the outcomes and how they are to be assessed with the
all modules having clear, defined objectives, practice exercises, and mastery tests. A
good learning objective has to have three primary components of an objective:

   1) Conditions. An objective always describes the important conditions (if any)
      under which the performance is to occur.
   2) Performance. An objective always says what a learner is expected to be able to
      do; the objective sometimes describes the product or the result of the doing.
   3) Criterion. Wherever possible, an objective describes the criterion of acceptable
      performance by describing how well the learner must perform in order to be
      considered acceptable.

Mager held that an important part of writing good objectives was to use "doing
words." These are words which describe a performance (e.g., identify, select, recall)
which can be observed and measured. Words to avoid are those which describe
abstract states of being (e.g. know, learn, appreciate, be aware) which are difficult to
observe or measure. Mager's model is still used as a guide to good objective writing.

Criterion Referenced Instruction
The Criterion Referenced Instruction (CRI) framework developed by Robert Mager is
a set of methods for the design and delivery of training programs. It relies on a
detailed task analysis, the identification of performance objectives then assessment
against those objectives and a modular course structure that represents the
performance objectives.

CRI promoted the idea of self-paced learning using a variety of media. It heavily
influenced the objective-led, modular, self-paced, assessed design model that has
become common in e-learning.

Criterion Referenced Instruction (CRI) was based on five principles:
    1. Competences - The instructional objectives are derived from job performance
        and reflect the competencies (knowledge and skills) that need to be learned.
   2. Scope - Learners study and practice only those skills not yet mastered to the
      level required by the objectives.
   3. Practice - Learners are given opportunities to practice each skill they need to
      learn and obtain feedback about the quality of their performance.
   4. Reinforcement - Learners receive repeated practice in key skills that are to be
      used often or are difficult to learn.
   5. Autonomy - Learners have some freedom to choose the order in which to
      complete modules and progress self-paced based on their mastery of the

On the positive side, Mager, like Gagne, introduced rigour into the process of
instructional design. In his case, these were; learning objectives, competences and
assessments. It brought discipline to training and design by reinforcing professionals
to match learning to real objectives. However, behaviourism still underpinned the
approach. Learners were, in effect, conditioned to meet behavioural objectives. It led
to an over-emphasis on competences, learning objectives and assessments that turned
many learning experiences into dull and demotivating experiences for learners.

Mager, Robert F. (1962). Preparing Instructional Objectives Palo Alto, Calif.: Fearon

Mager, R. (1975). Preparing Instructional Objectives (2nd Edition). Belmont, CA:
Lake Publishing Co.

Mager, R. & Pipe, P. (1984). Analyzing Performance Problems, or You Really Oughta
Wanna (2nd Edition). Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing Co.

Mager, R. (1988). Making Instruction Work. Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing Co.
The history of learning theory has consistently shown the importance of „learning by
doing‟. Yet much formal learning delivery is devoid of experiential learning. It is left
to informal learning, applying our knowledge and skills in the real world, that most of
this „learning by doing‟ takes place. Theorist after theorist has shown the importance
of practice, yet few learning professionals and institutions pay it more than lip service.

Of course, experiential learning need not mean real experience in the real world. It
can also mean the delivery of compressed experience through simulations. A flight
simulator is no less experiential than a real aircraft. In fact, one could argue that it is
more experiential as it can deliver scenarios and conditions that one may never
encounter in real life. We are finally entering an era where technology can deliver
experiential simulations at relatively low price, not only for pilots, but for doctors,
managers and a whole range of skills that we need to learn and apply.

Kolb, famous for his experiential cycle, drew on a rich tradition from Dewey onwards
to pull together a model for experiential learning. It is simplistic and needed
modification. Schank is more concerned with an experiential model based on his own
cognitive theories on learning through failure and scenario-based learning. In his case
this is backed up by real content, produced using case-based reasoning and
                         David A. Kolb is best known for his work on experiential
                         learning. Dewey, Lewin and Piaget heavily influenced him,
                         preferring an experiential model for learning as opposed to
                         purely cognitive models.

                         We obviously learn much from experience, either formally in
                         terms of structured exposure in training or in work and life
                         itself through informal learning. Kolb and others since have
                         tried to examine how we learn experientially and how this can
                         be used to guide instructional strategies.

Experiential learning

David A. Kolb (with Roger Fry) created his famous four stage learning cycle.

Kolb claims that we can enter the cycle at any point and that learning is really a
process of looping round and round again, seeing improvement on each loop. We
may, for example, be able to do something but not express it in abstract terms.
Learning is formed through real experience, where one‟s ideas are put to the test.
Feedback then shapes the learning so that performance improves.

Models such as these can be over-simplistic. They rarely match the reality of the
learning process and one can argue that stages can be skipped or performed in
parallel. Others have argued that it pays too little attention to theory, information
tasks, memorisation and reflection.

Subsequent tests of the model by Jarvis (1987, 1995) have indeed shown that things
are more complex. The model is less of a cycle and more of a web of causality.

Although this model is a useful guide, in practice, the design of experiential learning
is more complex. The idea of cyclical learning informed by experience is sound, as is
the importance of formative experiences themselves in learning. Kolb is a refreshing
alternative to the overemphasis on academic, knowledge-based learning.

Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.

Kolb, D. A. (1976) The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual, Boston, Ma.:

Kolb, D. A. (with J. Osland and I. Rubin) (1995a) Organizational Behavior: An
Experiential Approach to Human Behavior in Organizations 6e, Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) 'Toward an applied theory of experiential learning;, in
C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.

Jarvis, P. (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context, London: Croom Helm. 220

Jarvis P. (1995) Adult and Continuing Education. Theory and practice 2e, London:
                         Schank is a critic of the current educational system, pointing
                         to 19th century curriculum structures, teaching by telling,
                         lectures and memorisation as structures and techniques that
                         make most averse to learning.

                         By allowing users to fail in controlled environments, he saw
                         that instruction is not about telling. It‟s about real or
                         fictionally constructed experience, involvement and practice,
                         including the experience of failure.

Script theory
Based on an examination of language and memory, Schank has explored the idea of
personalised scripts in learning and memory. This personalised, episodic model of
memory led to a theory of instruction that exposed learners to model scripts by
allowing them to experience the process of building their own scripts. We need scripts
for handling meetings, dealing with customers, selling to others and so on.
Knowledge is not a set of facts, it‟s a set of experiences. This is not taught by telling,
it is taught by doing, „there really is no learning without doing‟.

Learning by doing
He rejects the idea that we have to fill people up with knowledge they‟ll never use.
Too much education and training tries, and fails, to do this. We need to identify why
someone wants to learn then teach it. In this sense he puts skills before factual

Meaningful stories (scripts) lie at the heart of his instructional method. These
contextualise learning and link to previous schema. A fierce critic of lectures and
classroom education and training, he has developed simulation methods for exposing
learners to script building environments, where they can learn by repeated exposure to
failure and ultimately success. Expectation failure is when things turn out to be
different from what you expected. This is when you learn. Breaking with traditional
linguists and theorists of learning, he sees the learning as a difficult and messy
process. We match incoming problems to past experiences. Case-based reasoning is
therefore instructive, where we learn by doing what we want to do. We also learn by
making mistakes and reflecting on what those mistakes were and what we can do
about them. Learning by doing, works. Learning by telling, doesn't.

In e-learning this means using case-based instruction, emotional impact, video, role-
playing, storytelling. Learners are put into situations that seem realistic to them, to
solve problems, and possibly fail, and have someone help them out. Design is hard,
reworking the thing into a case-based scenario; something that seems like a goal
someone has, then to helping them accomplish it - that's learning.

He illustrates his approach by example. How many car lengths should you keep ahead
of you? We've all learned. I mean, for every car length, it equals 10 miles per hour. Is
someone going to go out and measure car lengths while they're driving? That's the
wrong question.
Story-Centred Curricula
He has explored learning from mentored experience, not from direct instruction
presented out of context. Fictional situations are set up in which students must play a
role. They need to produce documents, software, plans, presentations and such within
a story describing the situation. Deliverables produced by the student are evaluated by
team members and by mentors. The virtual experiential curricula are story centred.
Story-Centred Curricula are carefully designed apprenticeship-style learning
experiences in which the student encounters a planned sequence of real-world
situations constructed to motivate the development and application of knowledge and
skills in an integrated fashion.

An advocate of home schooling he is also creating a Virtual High School with year
long experiences into which traditional subjects are brought in when needed, for
home-schooled learners as an alternative to the 1892 curriculum now in place.

Schank has turned most instructional methods on their head by rejecting the objective,
competence-led approach for a more meaningful, experiential, learn by doing method.
Case-based scenarios and stories are used to create contexts in which learners
succeed, and just as importantly fail.


Schank, R.C. (1975). Conceptual Information Processing. New York: Elsevier.

Schank, R.C. (1982a). Dynamic Memory: A Theory of Reminding and Learning in
Computers and People. Cambridge University Press.

Schank, R.C. (1982b). Reading and Understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Schank, R.C. (1986). Explanation Patterns: Understanding Mechanically and
Creatively. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Schank, R.C. (1991). Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Intelligence.
New York: Simon & Schuster.

Schank, R.C. & Abelson, R. (1977). Scripts, Plans, Goals, and Understanding.
Hillsdale, NJ: Earlbaum Assoc.

Schank, R.C. & Cleary. C. (1995). Engines for education. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

Schank, R.C (2005). Lessons in e-Learning. Pfeiffer.
Technology analysts
As technology plays an increasing role in learning, some have focused on examining
that role in cultural and social terms. While there‟s a great deal of literature on the
general impact of technology on society and business, there‟s a dearth of good content
on technology and learning. To contrast two cultural and media analysts, one sees
print as something to be valued and defended against the onslaught of electronic
media, the other sees print as leading to linear thinking and isolation.

Marshall McLuhan through his „medium is the message‟ determinism, was media as
inflicting its intrinsic qualities on individuals, separately from the content. He saw the
Gutenburg age as something that was to be overcome, but warned us to be on our
guard against all technologically defined media.

Neil Postman, on the other hand, has a longstanding interest in the impact of TV and
other screen-based media on the minds of children. He is the direct heir of McLuhan
in that he sees the medium as having intrinsic qualities, which have a direct impact on
the learning mind. Not all of these qualities, he reminds us, are good.

As we wrestle with the impact of the internet on learning and culture, we should not
ignore the pioneers of this analysis, as they have much to offer.
McLuhan (1911-1980)
                          Marshall McLuhan, popularised, if not invented „media
                          studies‟. His accessible books and aphoristic style introduced
                          reflection on communications and media to an entire
                          generation. Indeed, „the medium is the message‟ has become
                          so popular that it has become a cliché.

                          His ideas, particularly his media determinism, endure, and
                          he has much to offer those who are interested in the impact
                          of technology in learning, from writing through print to new

Gutenburg generation
Although put forward as a savant on electronic media, he was strongest in his analysis
of print media. In The Gutenburg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, he first
explores the relationship between media (writing, print and electronic) to the
individual mind and then to society. Media are seen as extensions of mind, but not
always additive. Print, he thinks, brings in a linear, sequential mode of thought that
sometimes simplifies, seprates and subsumes other modes (such as hearing). Print is
the technology of individualism.

In his analysis of what he called „the Gutenburg generation‟, the industrial revolution,
he thought, was a consequence of the print revolution. This new medium resulted in
„private readers‟ isolated from each other, resulting in less community and social
interaction. This was a direct result of mass copying and book design as a cheap and
portable piece of technology. He saw most media as leading us towards a „global
village‟. (Note that this was often seen by him as a negative term.)

Medium is the message
In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man McLuhan defines media as defining
ourselves and society. The invention of alphabets and writing radically alters our
minds and our relationship with the world. His famous „medium is the message‟
became the foundation stone for media and technology studies. Famously misprinted
by the publisher as „The massage is the medium‟, McLuhan loved the error. His point
was that each medium has a set of intrinsic qualities that changes our relationship with
the world. Speed, replication, pattern, scalability are all features of media which shape
the nature of the message. The tools we shape, also shape us, and we have to
understand this process. It is this deterministic view of media that he is best known.

Hot and cold media
Media are divided into hot (low audience participation, such as print) and cool (high
audience participation, such as TV). It is not clear that this distinction survives in our
multimedia, internet age. However, his analysis of the effect of different types of
media are strong and remain relevant. Indeed, the advent of the internet has thrown
much of McLuhan‟s analysis up in the air, as it has many dimensions that prove
difficult to fit into these older analyses.

McLuhan was arguably the originator, certainly a populiser, of an entirely new subject
– media studies. His insights into the nature of media were profound and many of his
ideas about the way media and technology impact individuals and society were
prescient. Amusingly, he appeared in the Woody Allen film Annie hall, as himself.
When presented to a professor who was trying to impress his date with his knowledge
of McLuhan, he asks McLuhan how he ever became a professor. McLuhan ends by
saying „You don‟t understand my work at all‟, perhaps a fitting comment for many
mordern commantators.


McLuhan, Marshall (1962). The Gutenburg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic
Man. New York: Routledge.

McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Gingko.

McLuhan, Marshall (1967). The Medium is the Massage. Gingko.

McLuhan, Marshall (1968). War and peace in the Global Village. Gingko.

McLuhan, Marshall (1989). The Global Village. Gingko.

Levinson, Paul (1999). Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millenium.
                           New York University‟s Neil Postman has explored the
                           impact of technology on culture and education. He is best
                           known for his work on television as a cultural and
                           educational force but has a much wider reach into the
                           broader issues of teaching and schooling.

                           It would be fair to say that he warns us against the
                           unthinking adoption of technology and schooling without
                           purpose and values. His voice is a valuable antidote to the
                           unthinking adoption of technology in learning. Electronic
                           media may be all pervasive, this is not to say that they are
                           all good for learning and cultural development.

Amusement is not learning
In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman warns us against mistaking the rhetoric of a
broadcast medium for learning. Stripped of dialogue, the flow of film and television
strips us of our ability to reflect, think, deduce and resolve issues. It stops us learning.
However, his main argument is that teaching, as a form of dialogue, is being replaced
by entertainment or amusement.

The Disappearance of Childhood
A central theme in his work is the effect of media on childhood. In The
Disappearance of Childhood and Childhood: Can It Be Preserved, he identifies the
creation of childhood with print and reading, certainly since the Renaissance.
Television, he claims, blurs he adult/child distinction, making children behave like
adults and adults like children. Schools, he states, along with the family, protect us
from this unthinking adoption of technology. They preserve the values of childhood,
rooted as they are in the culture of teaching, dialogue and print. This is not to say that
schools are all good. Public schooling is simply the best we have come up with as a
form of introduction to the adult world. In The End of Education he defines the role of
schools as both dissemination of values and knowledge as well as the skills of
reflection, critique and debate, but fears the effects of technology and sees the
tangible evidence of decline.

His wider research into technology in culture is well represented by Technopoly: The
Surrender of Culture to Technology. Technology is both good and bad. It becomes
dangerous when we look to it for the authentification of our culture or allow it to
determine our lives through the joy of consumption. He is a jealous guardian of the
culture of print and reading and has grounded much of his theory in a defence of the
language of dialogue against the language of technology and consumerism. It is
through reading, he thinks, that our true educational development takes place.

We should not mistake Postman‟s critiques of television and other media as complete
condemnation. He is not, as some claim, a simple reactionary. He is asking us to think
deeply about the effects of technology on both learning and culture. Technology can
both impress and oppress. He is careful to defend the traditional without being naively


Postman, Neil (1982). The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Delacorte.

Postman, Neil (1985). Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin.

Postman, Neil (1992). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New
York: Knopf.

Postman, Neil (1997). The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School. New
York: Knopf.
Media & design
As e-learning emerged from computer based training, some lessons were successfully
carried over, others were forgotten or ignored. We are still woefully short of good
research on what works and what doesn‟t work in screen-based learning. So many
programmes feel, either dull, or as if they had been created from a media scrap-yard.
It is not clear to many designers how, in terms of learning, text works with audio,
what size and quality of video is required, whether accompanying animation aids or
distracts from learning and so on.

Fortunately a few academics have got to work on these basic questions, although their
work is still relatively unknown, even among professional e-learning designers. Clark
and Mayer, along with Nass and Reeves, stand out as pioneers in the empirical testing
of issues that face most e-learning designers around the use of text, graphics, audio,
animation, video and their combinations. These lessons have become even more
important as increased bandwidth has led to an explosion in the use of audio,
animation and video.
Mayer & Clark
                         Richard Mayer‟s and Ruth are among the foremost
                         researchers in the empirical testing of media and media mix

                         Their e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (2003) covers
                         seven design principles; multimedia, contiguity, modality,
                         redundancy, coherence, personalisation, and practice
                         opportunities. Clear explanations are given about the risks of
                         ignoring these principles - with support from worked
                         examples and case study challenges.

                         Their precise studies have confirmed that our media mix in
                         learning is often flawed, resulting in cognitive overload and
                         dissonance. The poor use of text layout and dislocated pop-up
                         text has also been identified as a serious weakness.

                         Petrhaps their greatest contribution has been in identifying
                         redundancy as a serious problem in screen-based learning.
                         Overwritten text and audio have been shown to reduce
                         learning as have extraneous or distracting graphics and
                         animation. Less is often more.

Multimedia and modality
Clark and Mayer (2003) argue that words and simple graphics can improve learning
as they use separate cognitive channels, as opposed to text and graphics/animation
which both use the visual channel. This is an argument for using audio and graphics
without screen text. According to studies in Clark and Mayer (2003) audio or text on
their own are better than text and audio together. This is confirmed by another study
by Kalyuga, Chandler and Sweller (1999) where the group with audio scored 64%
better than the group with both text and audio. They claim that one or other is
redundant and will overload the visual and aural channels.

Mayer (1989), Mayer Steinhoff Bower (1995) and Moreno and Mayer (1999) in five
separate studies compared graphics with text close to the graphics, and graphics with
text below the graphics, at the foot of the screen. In all five studies, learners the co-
located text and graphics resulted in improved problem solving of between 43-89%.
Similar results have been found by Chandler and Sweller (1991), Pass and Van
Merrienboer, (1994). Making the learner‟s eye jump from one part of the screen to
another is disruptive and reduces the effectiveness of the learning. E-learning has also
introduced heavy doses of rollover text which is displaced away from the item over
which the cursor rolls so that the pop-up text appears elsewhere on the screen at a
distance from the item in question. The research confirms that this is to be avoided in
learning programmes.
They claim that words in both text and accompanying audio narration can hurt
learning. This is interesting as it is often assumed that one needs both to cover
accessibility issues.

One study by Mayer, et al (1996) presented 600 pieces of scientific learning and
found that briefer versions, which were concise, coherent and co-ordinated, resulted in
more effective learning. They are precise in their recommendations, „There is a clear
pattern in which the more words added to the core verbal explanation, the more
poorly the student does in producing the core explanative idea units. These results are
consistent with the idea that the additional words overload verbal working memory,
drawing limited attentional and comprehension resources away from the core verbal
explanation.‟ A review of studies around this concept, known as the redundancy
effect, by Sweller et al (1998) cites a list of research studies that all point to the
damage done to learning when redundant material interferes with the efficacy of the
learning. For example; they illustrate a point about leaving out extraneous or
distracting graphics in media with an experiment conducted by Harp and Mayer
(1997) in which students were given a text to read on lightning strikes. Students who
read the passage accompanied by elaborate colour photos with additional captions - as
opposed to the text with simple graphics - showed 73% less retention of knowledge
and 52% fewer solutions on a transfer test.

Clark and Mayer were among the first to seriously research the use of media in e-
learning and have come up with empirically tested conclusions, often repeated by
others, which suggest that many common practices in e-learning design are, in fact,
wrong. They actually result in harming rather than helping the learning process. They
call for simpler, less gimmicky use of media.

Mayer R E and Clark R, E-learning and the Science of Instruction (see p61 for
multiple references), Pfeiffer, 2003

Mayer R E, Systematic Thinking Fostered by Illustrations in Scientific Text. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 81, 240-246. 1989

Mayer R E, and Gallini J K. When Is An Illustration Worth a Thousand Words?
Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 64-73. 1990

Mayer R E and Anderson RB. Animations Need Narrations. Journal of Educational
Psychology, 90, 312-320. 1991

Mayer R E and Anderson RB. The Instructive Animation: Helping Students Build
Connections Between Words and Pictures. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90,
312-320. 1992
Reeves & Nass
                        Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass are two Stanford academics
                        whose book „The Media Equation: How People Treat
                        Computers, Television and New Media Like Real People and
                        Places‟ is a key text on how we cognitively react to media.

                        People confuse media with real life, 'People can't always
                        overcome the powerful assumption that mediated
                        presentations are actual people and objects.' We react to
                        media in the same way that we react to real people and real
                        places. They provide a compelling case to show that that
                        people confuse media with real life. It‟s what makes movies,
                        television, radio, the web and e-learning work.

                        Much design of computer software and e-learning ignores
                        this fundamental principle and their real contribution comes
                        in the many detailed empirical studies on basic design such as
                        the use of manners, personality and social roles in the design
                        of media. They also did groundbreaking research into the use
                        of image size in video, fidelity of video and audio, synchrony
                        and motion in media.

Media equals real life
The 35 psychological studies into the human reaction to media all point towards the
simple proposition that media equals real life. By this they mean that people react
towards media socially and naturally, even though they believe it is not reasonable to
do so. 'People can't always overcome the powerful assumption that mediated
presentations are actual people and objects.'

However, this is only true 'as long as a media technology is consistent with social and
physical rules'. If the media technology fails to conform to these human expectations -
we will NOT accept it. The spell is easily broken. We must learn to design our
courseware as if it were being delivered by real people in a human fashion.

Politeness, flattery, personality, arousal
Take one example, arousal; arouse people at the start and they will remember more.
The first experience many learners have in an e-learning programme is a dull list of
learning objectives. There is a strong argument for emotional engagement at the start
of an e-learning programme and not a list of objectives. On the other hand, persistent
arousal can be counterproductive.

Another is our dislike of unnatural timing. Slight pauses, waits and unexpected events
cause disturbance and audio-video asynchrony such as poor lip-synch or jerky low
frame rate video result in negative evaluations of the speaker. Reeves and Nass (1996)
have also shown that politeness, flattery, personality and many other features can help
people adapt to computer mediated communication and learning.
One study found that computers should praise people frequently, even when there is
no reason to. Praise and blame are asymmetrical - we love to be praise and hate to be
criticised, so give out criticism carefully and sparingly.

With experts, respected and authoritative views can not only bring credibility to the
programme, they can also increase learning and retention. People like identifiable

Audio and video
Audio fidelity is much more important than video fidelity. Learners expect
consistently high quality at a consistent volume. They conclude that „For designers of
multimedia, audio is a good place to invest. It appears to deliver more psychological
bang for the buck‟. Because peripheral vision is largely ill-defined and we are used to
low visual fidelity in twilight, fog and so on, we are likely to cope well with low
fidelity visual images. They tested their hypothesis by measuring attention, memory
and evaluation of the experience when viewing video. Interestingly they could detect
no difference between those who viewed low, as opposed to high, fidelity images.
Taking their experiments further they also discovered that the size and shape of the
screen and therefore image mattered more than quality. Large screens and images
were preferable to higher quality. In other words larger wide screen format monitors
have more impact than quality of image.

'If the designers of media would only follow their (Reeves and Nass) guidance, we
would all gain through enhanced social graces in our interactions with media and
technology' says Donald A Norman. Reeves and Nass have provided a single unifying
theory about human-media interaction along with many detailed studies on specific
facets of that relationship.

Nass B and Reeves B, The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television
and New Media Like Real People and Places, Cambridge, 1996
Usability & evaluation
Norman and Nielsen stand out as two well published figures who tried to bring reason
to bear in the fast moving, and at times anarchic, internet. Their common sense advice
was based on cognitive user models and real user trials. In other words, they are not
so much designers, as advisors on design, based on real trial evidence. This empirical
approach to design was badly needed in a world of subjective judgements, where the
whims of designers often overruled the needs of users.

As the internet grew, it was subject to much use and abuse in design. We have all
been on the end of the abuse as we have struggled to get to grips with the technology.
We shouldn‟t be surprised, as computer tools are complex, it‟s an evolving field and
tasks often need some learning. But good design applies as much to the screen as to
physical objects and we should be pleased that some theorists have focused on solving
these problems through user-based evidence and trials. Usability is a balancing act
between expert designers and testing with experts and real users. All three are often
surprisingly scarce in web and e-learning design.
                     Donald Norman‟s touchstone for successful technology is that it
                     should be invisible, hidden from sight. Technology must conform
                     to human needs, not the other way around. This requires user-
                     centred design to humanise technology. An effective interface
                     should render technology invisible. We don't notice it because it
                     works effectively.

                     He has also applied his critiques to interface design and is a
                     consistent critic of inconsistent and gimmicky web design.

The Psychology of Everyday Things
In The Psychology of Everyday Things, Norman takes a wry look at product design in
everyday objects such as VCRs, computers, telephones, car windows, dashboards,
doors etc. to show good and bad practice. It‟s full of examples explaining why people
push when they should pull, click the wrong buttons and generally fail to complete the
simplest of everyday tasks.

His advice is straightforward and has plenty of relevance in e-learning and web
design. His first rule is „Design for usability‟. Usability, or ease of use, is paramount.
Don‟t make navigation difficult. Make things visible – don‟t keep the user in the dark.
A good example of how this goes wrong in e-learning is the poor use of icons in
navigation. Programmes sometimes have graphics that look like icons but are not
active, merely illustrative. You click on them and nothing happens. Even worse, you
may click on an icon and something unexpected happens. The icon may even be
meaningless. In practice, icons usually have to be supported by text.

Mapping is another of his principles in design. To steer a car you turn the wheel to the
right to go right and left to go left. This is mapping. Apply this to navigation on the
screen. To go forward the arrow should face to the right and left to go back. In
general, in navigation, feedback (another Norman design principle) is also important.
You need to know when you‟ve arrived at a destination.

Computer interfaces
In his later works he tackles, not objects, but computer interfaces. How do new users
understand what to do?

First, follow conventional usage, both in the choice of images and the allowable
interactions. Convention can constrain creativity but on the whole, unless we follow
the major conventions, we usually fail. Those who violate conventions, even when
they are convinced that their new method is superior, are doomed to fail. (You cannot
successfully introduce a non-qwerty keyboard today, or reverse the window scroll bar
convention. For better or for worse, human culture changes slowly, if at all.)

Use words to describe the desired action (e.g., "click here" or use labels in front of
perceived objects). Words alone cannot solve the problem, for there still must be
some way of knowing what action and where it is to be done. This requires a
convention of highlighting, or outlining, or depiction of an actionable object. It is also
well known that single word labels fail for most people. Thus, road signs often use
graphics - an international standard on road sign graphics exists. Alas, most people do
not understand those standards. It is also the case that words are understood more
quickly than graphics, even a well known, understood graphic. Words plus graphics
are even more readily understood.

Follow a coherent conceptual model so that once part of the interface is learned, the
same principles apply to other parts. Coherent conceptual models are valuable and, in
my opinion, necessary, but there still remains the bootstrapping problem; how does
one learn the model in the first place? By conventions, words, and metaphors.

Norman forced us to see design as a force, not only in real-world objects, but also on
the screen. We are only now starting to see the importance of his advice in e-learning
and web design with interfaces which are truly invisible in the sense that that they are
easy to use and do not confuse.

Norman, D. (1986) User Centered System Design

Norman, D. (1988) The Psychology of Everyday Things

Norman, D. (1992) Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles

Norman, D. (1993) Things That Make Us Smart

Norman, D. (1994) Defending human attributes in the age of the machine

Norman, D. (1998) The Invisible Computer
                       Jakob Nielsen has long campaigned for better usability on the
                       internet. Using real usability trials he was, and is, a ferocious
                       critic of excessive and self-absorbed web design. He is highly
                       critical of designers who see the medium as a mere form of
                       expression, rather than performing real acts of communication,
                       and has continually given advice on best practice, based on
                       actual user responses. His book, „Designing Web Usability:
                       The Practice of Simplicity‟ is the best-selling book ever about
                       user interfaces.

A key concept for Nielsen is consistency. Users, he claims, crave for consistency.
They expect to learn how to use a website or piece of e-learning, but don‟t expect to
worry about the rules changing. The unexpected breaks the user‟s confidence in the
system making them feel insecure.

Writing for online
As readers scan screen text, far more than they scan written text, Nielsen advises
counteractive techniques:

      subheads
      bulleted lists
      highlighted keywords
      short paragraphs
      the inverted pyramid
      a simple writing style
      de-fluffed language devoid of marketese

Abuse of Flash animation
In his famous „Flash: 99% Bad‟ article, he characterises the presence of Flash as a
usability disease. He does not criticise the tool itself, only its tendency to work against
usability. Flash makes things unusable for thee main reasons.

First it encourages design abuse through gratuitous animation. Since we can make
things move, why not make things move? It‟s not that animation has no role to play,
only that, on the whole, it‟s a distraction. Interestingly, this was backed up in detailed
research by Mayer.

Second it reduces the granularity of user control, reverting to presentation type
sequences. Flash sequences at the start of websites have become the most indulgent
and annoying feature of the web.

Third, non-standard interfaces are introduced and not easy to use by users who are
used to more common conventions.
These usability problems are not inherent in Flash and use of this tool has improved
over the last few years. However, much Flash design continues to encourage these
types of abuse.

Nielsen‟s study on Disabled Accessibility: The Pragmatic Approach, showed that
accessibility problems should come as no surprise. „After all, countless usability
studies of websites and intranets have documented severe usability problems, low
success rates, and sub-optimal user performance, even when testing users with no
disabilities.‟ In general, improving accessibility improves usability, which in turn
improves performance, leading to cost benefits and savings.

The value of Jakob Nielsen‟s prioritised approach is that he has undertaken real
accessibility trials of websites with users with several different types of disabilities on
a range of assistive technologies, including a control group. His conclusions could be
said to run against the grain, in that he recommends a pragmatic, gradual approach to
making existing websites accessible. His advice is to get your top priorities fixed first
through a set of prioritised design rules. His argument is that pushing for too much too
soon, will create overload and in reality, if the choice is between 100% compliance
and nothing, many will do nothing. This makes a great deal of sense. On the other
hand, if legislation exists then being a pragmatist is no justification for breaking the

Nielsen is not afraid to challenge those who see the internet as a medium for designers
as opposed to users. His user-centred research confirms, time and time again, that real
people want simpler, more consistent and less elaborate models and content. His
advice, informed as it is by research, is invaluable for e-learning and web designers
alike. However, his web site is hopeless!

Nielsen J. (2001) Homepage Usability: 50 Websites deconstructed

Nielsen J. (2000) Designing Web Usablity: The Practice of Simplicity

Nielsen J. (2006) International User Interfaces

Jacob‟s home page
                       Steve Krug has had a considerable influence on web design
                       through his best-selling book Don‟t Make me Think. This was a
                       welcome brake on the excesses of text-heavy, over designed,
                       poorly navigable websites. His theory is based on real practice
                       and positive results on real web sites. Krug‟s first law of
                       usability is to strive to make things self-evident or self-
                       explanatory, hence the title „Don‟t Make Me Think‟.

Don’t Make Me Think
He asks a simple question - "how do we really use the web?" We glance, scan and
muddle through. We don‟t read pages, we scan them, choose the first reasonable
option, and because we‟re lazy, we meander through content. This is an important
point and, if excesses in design are to be avoided, one that has to be understood when
designing e-learning and web sites.

Writing for the screen
True to his belief that screen readers are different from print readers, he has strong
view on writing for the screen. Less is more and so he exhorts designers and writers to
omit needless words. In his own words, “Half the number of words and half again”.

Structure and navigation
Taking his lead from newspapers, always an interesting source for screen design, he
recommends carefully designed hierarchies and the use of conventions such as
shopping carts. This is sound advice. Conventions are more than just objects of
convenience, they are part of the grammar of interface design. Designers often refuse
to use conventions as they crave creativity and innovation – this, in his view, is rarely
useful. Pages should also be broken up into carefully defined areas, clickable areas
should be obvious and every attempt made to minimise „noise‟.

Following on from Norman and Nielsen, he stresses conventions. Don‟t play fast and
loose, make things easy and consistent. He hates navigation that breaks down when
you get past the second level. The solution, he thinks, is persistent global navigation
at the same position on every page with a home button and tracking. He loves those
tabs you get on Amazon. He also makes the useful distinction between sections of
content and utilities such as print, search and so on, tackles the issue of wide versus
deep hierarchies and the use of breadcrumbs.

Design Options
Sensitive to the needs of the internet as a medium in itself, he emphasises the
importance of the Home page. This leads to reflection on the importance of the „Big
Picture‟, namely the essential purpose of the site or e-learning programme. He loves
tag lines that capture the essence of a site or web experience along with consistency in
navigation. Mission statements he hates as they rarely tell you the real story and
usually miss the Big Picture. He also reviles badly designed rollovers, poorly
designed pull down menus, unnecessary banner ads and the over promotion of other
sites. Krug hates unnecessary noise.

Usability testing
Krug, like Norman and Nielsen is a strong believer in usability testing. Following
Nielsen and Landauer he takes the view that a few good testers and a few iterations
are all you need. Forget the large-scale focus groups and massive testing, which suffer
from the law of diminishing returns. His practical experience shows that just one, or a
few testers early on are more effective than a large number at the end.

He recommends evidence gathering with a camcorder and facilitator who asks
questions and gives tasks, especially „Get it‟ tasks where you probe the user for their
understanding of the point of the experience, how it works and how it is organised.
The point of the facilitator is to probe and ask them not only what they‟re looking at
but what they‟re thinking. Listen, keep an open mind and take lots of notes.

An underlying point, made many years before by Dewey and Heidegger is that
technologies work best when they hide themselves in things and tasks. Technology is
at its best when it is invisible. This is the consistent theme in all good usability
theorists and practitioners. The task of the designer, to make the delivery mechanism
as invisible as possible.

Krug understands the different roles of specialists in design teams and the tensions
that arise between them. His solution is to objectify the debate through testing, not
with the mythical average user, but with real users. His is a useful, practical and
prescriptive approach to good usability through good design.

Krug S. (2001) Don’t Make me Think

Krug‟s home page
                         Kirkpatrick has for decades been the only game in town in the
                         evaluation of learning taken from his Techniques for
                         evaluation training programmes (1959) and Evaluating
                         training programmes: The four levels (1994). In these he
                         proposed a standard approach to the evaluation of training that
                         has become the de facto standard in the industry. It is a simple
                         and sensible schema but has it stood the test of time?

 Level          Target                      Evaluation goal
 Level 1        Training                    Initial endorsement by participants of the
 Reaction                                   training
 Level 2        Learner on course           That learning did occur as a result of the
 Learning                                   training
 Level 3        Learner on job              That learning affected behaviour, or
 Behaviour                                  performance on the job
 Level 4        Organisation                That the training had the desired results in
 Results                                    the organisation

At reaction level one asks learners to comment anonymously on the adequacy of the
training, the approach and perceived relevance. The goal at this stage is to simply
identify glaring problems. It is not, at this stage, to determine whether the training

The learning level is more formal, requiring a pre- and post-test. This allows you to
identify those who had existing knowledge, as well as those at the end who missed
key learning points. It is designed to determine whether the learners actually acquired
the identified knowledge and skills.

At the behavioural level, you attempt to measure the transfer of the learning to the
job. This may need a mix of questionnaires and interviews with the learners, their
peers and their managers. Observation of the trainee on the job is often necessary. It
can include an immediate evaluation after the training and a follow-up after a couple
of months.

The results level looks at improvement in the organisation. This can take the form of a
return on investment (ROI) evaluation. The costs, benefits and payback period are
fully evaluated in relation to the training deliverables.

Level 1 - keep 'em happy
Favourable reactions on happy sheets do not guarantee that the learners have learnt
anything, so one has to be careful with these results. This data merely measures
opinion. Learners can express satisfaction with a learning experience yet might still
have failed to learn. For example, they may have enjoyed the experience just because
the trainer told good jokes and kept them amused. Conversely, learning can occur and
job performance improve, even though the participants thought the training was a
waste of time! Learners often learn under duress or through experiences which
although difficult at the time, prove to be useful later. This is especially true of
learning through mistakes and failure.

Too often applied after the damage has been done. The data is gathered but by that
time the cost has been incurred. More focus on evaluation prior to delivery, during
analysis and design, is more likely to eliminate inefficiencies in learning.

Level 2 - Testing, testing
Recommends measuring difference between pre- and post-test results but pre-tests are
often absent. End-point testing is often crude, often testing the learner‟s short-term
memory. With no adequate reinforcement and push into long-term memory, most of
the knowledge will be forgotten, even if the learner did pass the post-test.

Level 3 - Behave yourself
At this level the transfer of learning to actual performance is measured. This is
complicated, time consuming and expensive and often requires the buy-in of line
managers with no training background, as well as their time and effort.

Many people can speak languages and perform tasks without being able to articulate
the rules they follow. Conversely, many people can articulate a set of rules well, but
perform poorly at putting them into practice. This suggests that ultimately, Level three
data should take precedence over Level two data.

Level 4 - Does the business
Fewer shortcomings. The ultimate justification for spending money on training should
be its impact on the business. Measuring training in relation to business outcomes is
exceedingly difficult. However, the difficulty of the task should not discourage efforts
in this direction.

Should you evaluate at all?
Of course, it is one thing to critique the Kirkpatrick model, another to come up with a
credible alternative. I‟d say apply Occam‟s Razor - minimise the number of entities
you need to reach your goal. Put the over-engineered, four-level, Kirkpatrick model to
one side as it is costly, disruptive and statistically weak. Focus on one final
quantitative and qualitative analysis.

The training world adopted this over-engineered rod for its own back. Senior
managers don't want all of this superflous data, they want more convincing business
arguments. It's the trainers that tell senior management that they need Kirkpatrick, not
the other way round. All the evidence points towards Levels three and four being
rarely attempted as all of the resource focuses on Levels 1 and 2. It is not necessary to
do all four levels. Given the time and resources needed in evaluation better to go
straight to Level four.

I liked Stephen Kerr‟s view, the CLO at GE, then Goldman Sachs - Kirkpatrick asks
all the wrong questions, the task is to create the motivation and context for good
learning and knowledge sharing, not to treat learning as an auditable commodity. He
would literally like to see Kirkpatrick consigned to the bin.

The Kirkpatrick model, a piece of dreary and hopelessly over-engineered theory, is
over 40 years old, and is badly in need of an overhaul (and not just by Philips adding
another Level). Even better, abandon it altogether.


Kirkpatrick, Donald (1959). Techniques for evaluation training programmes.

Kirkpatrick, Donald (1994). Evaluating training programmes: The four levels.
Games and learning
Games, and in particular computer games, are having a profound effect on the design
of e-learning. Compare the huge amount of time children, and increasingly adults,
play computer games, to the struggle we have to motivate learners in education and
training. There must surely be lessons to be learnt from games in learning. Surely
some of the motivational principles, game strategies and design could be put to good
use in learning.

Marc Prensky stands out as the original evangelist, promoting the idea of digital
natives who are tired of the old ways of learning, as opposed to the digital
immigrants, who are stuck in the old ways of delivery. James Gee has a more
academic approach taking principles from computer gaming and hypothesising on
whether they can be used in the design of more motivating and learning experiences.
                          Mark Presnsky set the pace on the use of games in learning
                          with his evangelistic book Digital Game-Based Learning
                          (2001). Prensky claims that today's trainers and trainees are
                          from totally separate worlds. Sure, learners have a short
                          attention span nowadays - for the old ways of learning! His
                          point is that the old ways are inappropriate for the new
                          generation of learners. Games now infuse the culture with
                          movies of games and games of movies. The powerful
                          argument that underpins the rest of the text is that games are
                          cool, education and training are dull.

‘Digital natives’ versus ‘Digital immigrants’
These terms have become commonplace and Marc has done a great deal to make them
common currency in the learning field. Digital natives are those who grew up in a
habitat with computers, texting, searching, games consoles and thrashing about in
software – the twitch generation. Digital immigrants are those who have had to enter
their world and learn about them and their habitat. Digital aliens are those who remain
outside of the system.

Games and motivation
The real power in the book comes from the arguments he gathers on motivation, and
using game techniques to improve learning. Games' designers know a lot about
motivation. They have to - or their games won't sell. There is, therefore, real mileage
in taking game design techniques and using them in learning.

His analysis of what makes games tick is exemplary and matched by a similarly
strong analysis on learning in relation to simulations. The difficulty, however, is in
bringing these two worlds together, and Prensky is not entirely convincing in making
these two worlds congruent. Games may not be as widely applicable in education and
training as he imagines.

Light on the downside
As one would expect, and as with any book that takes a single, strong line - traditional
learning bad, games good – he is light on arguments against games in learning. These
include: violence, gender gaps, distractive elements, disappointment and a whole raft
of arguments against the use of games in reflective, higher forms of learning. For
example, it is quite difficult to argue that the violence in games has no effect
whatsoever on players, then argue that games make great sense for behavioural
change. Why has the military spent so much on games, simulations and even a free
downloadable game with over a million players if it has no psychological effect?

This is a dimension to the 'games in learning' debate that is often underestimated by
the games evangelists. Games often have no educational value, and, even worse, can
distract, disappoint or even destroy learning.
Distraction - if the learning objectives are not congruent with the game objectives you
run a real danger of distracting learners from the learning. Learners become obsessed
with progress, scores and other non-learning components in the game, to the detriment
of the content. Even in real computer games, players will go to enormous lengths to
obtain cheats.

Disappointment - this is a danger where the learner is set up to experience a game
which actually turns out to be a rather weak affair. Children brought up on a diet of
blockbuster real-time games are often bored by poorly designed educational games.

Destruction - in some cases, games can even destroy learning. This is the argument
put forward by Postman. If game-playing induces an expectation that learning must
always be an amusing experience, then setting such an expectation risks producing the
opposite effect in contexts where amusement is absent. In this way, a games-based
approach might undermine other more traditional forms of education and training.

Many now argue that we should harness the strength of games, while setting their
weaknesses to the side. Some also argue that games may turn out a generation with
better IQs, better skills, more attuned to technology with a more enlightened learner-
centric attitude towards learning than any previous generation.

Prensky M. (2001) Digital Game-Based Learning

Marc‟s home page
                        James Gee, a Professor in the School of Education at the
                        University of Wisconsin, added some academic credibility to
                        the games in learning debate in his book What Videogames
                        Have to Teach us about Literacy and Learning (2003).

                        He has taken 36 principles from games design and applied
                        them to learning. This takes the debate on from the pure
                        evangelism of Prensky to a theoretical plane, where principles
                        can be out to the test.

36 learning principles
Gee is a fan of computer games and the book extracts 36 learning principles from
game playing to show us that games have much to teach us about learning. In this he
succeeds, although many of his principles are debatable.

He describes his experiences in learning how to play computer games. As a digital
immigrant (entered their world), rather than digital native (brought up in their world),
he duly acknowledges that he finds games difficult; but his joy in mastering Deux Ex
or Half Life is evident, and this voyage of discovery is accompanied by insightful
reflections on their worth as learning experiences.

Another strength of the book is his observations on collaboration in games. People
who do not play computer games often misunderstand this. They will never have used
cheats, walkthroughs, read the magazines and visited game sites. Kids play games
together online with people they have never met and engage in a rich community of
practice (Gee prefers the term 'affinity group').

By abstracting out his 36 key principles he allows us to see how each can be applied
in learning without committing to the full-on 3D virtual environment game. These
principles cover learning to learn how to play games, lots of principles around success
through failure, as well as exploding the myth that game playing is a solitary, anti-
social affair.

One downside of the analysis is the fact that he‟s a disciple of the semiotic movement.
This is the theoretical grounding for many of his 36 principles. However, if you're not
a follower of 'semiotic domains' or 'text-internal relationships' you can cluster this
stuff under 'media literacy'. Much is made of a new type of visual literacy in the form
of symbols, images, video and so on. This is valid to a degree, but falls down
somewhat when applied to the business of acquiring the skills of reading or writing,
which have standard practices that must be learned in order to function in most
professions and, indeed, in everyday life.
However, even if you disagree with the sociological theorising, there is still much to
gain from this book, as many of his principles stand alone from his semiotic theory.
Gee is at least open and honest about his underpinning theory, pointing out that in
three major areas 'many disagree with each one and, indeed, all three.'

He takes the high ground on games, showing us their virtues, but few of their vices.
Again, like Prensky in Digital Game-Based Learning (see review below) he's light on
counter-arguments. Games may be wonderful, but are still unsuitable for many types
of calm, reflective learning. He's also a little short on real recommendations about
how games can be practically used in learning, making this a highly theoretical book
but low on practical advice.

This is an excellent, although altogether different text from David Prensky's Digital
Game Based Learning. It is essential reading along with Trigger Happy and Joystick
Nation for those who are convinced, or need convincing, that games have much to
offer education and training.

Gee J. (2003). What Videogames Have to Teach us about Literacy and Learning,
Informal learning
Most learning theorists have focused on formal learning along with taxonomies of
learning and defined instructional models. In practice, little of our learning across a
lifetime is formal. Apart from one major bout of, often forced, formal schooling
between the age of 5 and 16, the rest is largely informal. Pre-school is almost wholly
informal, tertiary education has minimal face-to-face formal learning and in the
workplace research consistently shows that the great majority of learning is informal.

Csikszentmihalyi focuses on his concept of „flow‟, or being „in the zone‟ or „in the
groove‟ during learning. He is one of the few educational theorists with a well
researched concept that actually recommends action on motivation, rather than
taxonomies and theories of instruction.

Cross asks us to reflect on the obvious, but shocking, fact that almost all of our
attention (and spend) goes on the formal side, while the majority of the action is
informal. He then asks us to consider the accelerating role of technology in on
informal learning through blogs, wikis, open resources, podcasts and many other Web
2.0 tools. He moves us beyond traditional LMS and content model and beyond
blended learning to a newer more naturalistic model of learning, based on real
                           Jay Cross has been credited with inventing the term e-
                           learning and has been a pioneer in both the practice and
                           theory of technology in learning. After developing the first
                           courses on the hugely successful University of Phoenix he
                           set up the Internet Time Group. A tireless thinker and
                           presenter on learning, he has pushed the learning world to
                           think seriously about workflow and informal learning. His
                           blog is one of the most respected learning blogs on the web,
                           a model of honesty and authenticity.

Workflow learning
Workflow learning ties learning into the actual workflow within an organisation.
According to Cross it takes us beyond just Electronic Performance Support Systems
(EPSS) to support and on-demand services that are designed to exist within the real
tasks we do in our everyday work.

Informal learning
Out of this work on workflow learning came an even wider and what he regards as
more important set of reflections. Cross has recently moved towards reflection on
informal learning. Averse to detailed semantic analysis, he compares the difference
between formal and informal learning to the difference between taking a trip on a bus
and driving your car. In the former, you‟re on a set route and not in the driving seat, in
the latter you go where you want, when you want and on the route you choose. His
reflections on the failure of training to really recognise informal learning is well
represented in his oft-used „spending paradox‟ slide.



     Spending                    Learning
His reflections on the failure of training to really recognise informal learning is
illustrated here. Why do we spend almost all of our budgets on formal learning when
we know that most learning is informal? The problem, so stated, is not to pit formal
against informal e-learning, but simply a matter of redressing the balance.

He invites us to think about learning in a more naturalistic way, seeing learners as real
people in real organisations who use real tools in real networks. Blogs, wikis,
podcasts, syndication, peer-to-peer sharing, aggregators, Web 2.0, tagging, mash-ups
and personal knowledge management are all emergent phenomena, unlike the top-
down tools and content that traditional e-learning has provided. When we look at the
internet we see powerful tools and techniques emerge through genuine use. It is these,
he believes, that point us towards success in learning.

Cross has contributed much to the development of new ideas in e-learning, especially
in his push to get workflow and informal learning recognised as important features of
the learning landscape. More than just the theory, he has actively engaged in debate
and widely disseminated his ideas.

Cross J. (2004). Implementing e-Learning, ASTD

Cross J. (2006) Informal Learning, Pfeiffer

Jay Cross‟s blog:

                        Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high-
                        ee), professor of Human Development and Education at
                        the University of Chicago, has contributed a background
                        learning theory that has real implications for the way we see
                        learning in practice. His concept of „flow‟ postulates mental
                        states of optimal performance where we are „in the flow‟.
                        This, he thinks, applies to sport but also many cognitive tasks
                        such as programming, writing and, importantly, learning.

                        He asks us to take the experience of flow into consideration
                        when designing and delivering formal and informal learning.
This is a concept of some importance in the design of simulations and online learning.

Csikszentmihalyi has gathered huge amounts of data on mental states through
spontaneous surveys. A randomly, beeping watch triggers people into reporting how
they feel. This has fuelled his research into optimal experiences and ultimately to his
core concept „flow‟. Linked to creativity, happiness and satisfaction, he sees „flow‟ as
"being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time
flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one,
like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the
utmost." It is sometimes described as being in the „zone‟ or „groove‟.

Intimately linked to recent positive psychology research, he has explored many
aspects of flow in practice. For example, his examination of 90 creative people across
a wide range of disciplines was explored in in 'Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of
Discovery and Invention' (HarperCollins, 1996). He has also applied his ieas to
business and sport.

Flow and learning
In his essay ‘Thoughts About Education‟ he points to the huge gap in education
between the „dismal reality and expectations‟. He sees most research as being
misplaced, lacking a focus on motivation. The main problem is not that people can‟t
learn, it‟s that they don‟t want to. His focus on intrinsic motivation searches for ways
to make learning more enjoyable and satisfying.

Again he points to states of consciousness where learners have a flow experience,
enjoyable in the sense that it felt like being carried away by a current, like being in a
flow. These experiences become intrinsically rewarding and sought after, learners
then become hooked, and they become autonomous learners leading to a „lifetime of
self-propelled acquisition of knowledge‟.

He also notes that a major constraint on people enjoying what they are doing is being
conscious of a fear of how they appear to others and what these others might think.
This mitigates against theory which pushes group learning or contexts in which the
learner may be exposed to the judgements of others.
The features one experiences when in the „flow‟ are compete involvement and focus
along with a sense of being outside of life. It induces a sense of internal clarity along
with an intimate reflective knowledge of your own performance. People often report
that they don‟t feel time passing. An important aspect of flow is doing something you
know is achievable. You walk the line between being too anxious and being bored
(echos of Vygotsky's theory of proximal development). Ultimately this leads to a
sense of serenity and intrinsic motivation that pushes you on to experiencing more of
this „flow‟ experience.

Csikszentmihalyi has worked with Kevin Rathunde comparing Montessori and
Traditional Middle Schools in the areas of motivation, quality of experience, and
social context. Using Csikszentmihalyi‟s sampling method Montessori students
reported a significantly better quality of experience in their academic work than
traditional students. Montessori students also perceived their schools as a more
positive community for learning, with more opportunities for active, rather than
passive, learning. (Note that the founders of Google both went to Montessori schools.)

Motivation, as an issue was squeezed out of educational theory by behaviourism then
a focus on defined cognitive skills. Csikszentmihalyi is one of the few psychologists
who have a concrete theory, based on large samples of empirical data, that points
towards a solution to this problem.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New
York: Harper and Row.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996). Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery
and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With
Everyday Life. Basic Books.
Internet learning
E-learning is more than just courses on the web. In a general sense it is computer
mediated learning. In practice, two business behemoths on the web, Google and
Amazon, have contributed hugely to the acquisition of knowledge by learners, albeit
in very different ways. Millions now routinely use Google services and Amazon to
advance their knowledge and learning.

Google has become the most important entry point for e-learning, and as Google‟s
stated intention is to „organize the world's information and make it universally
accessible and useful‟, Larry Page and Sergei Brin are, by definition, major
contributors to the advance of e-learning. Books still matter and millions take delight
in ripping open those brown cardboard packages when they arrive by post. Although
not strictly direct e-learning, this is access to learning mediated by a computer and
Jeff Bezos was the man with the vision. It is interesting to note that all three had very
open self-directed early education in Montessori schools.
Page and Brin
                                 Larry Page and Sergei Brin only met, at Stanford, in
                                 1995, yet their business, Google, has become one of
                                 the most significant global businesses of our times.
                                 Their search engine has transformed the way we
                                 search for information and has changed our very
                                 relationship with knowledge, making it a significant
                                 contribution to learning. As the world‟s most
                                 successful search engine it has become an
                                 indispensable tool for learning and research.

Brin was born in Russia and educated in the US, Page is from Michigan.
Like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Mahatma Gandhi,
Sigmund Freud, Buckminster Fuller, Leo Tolstoy, Burtrand Russell, Jean Piaget and
Hilary and Bill Clinton before them, they both attended Montessori schools. Indeed,
they both credit their Montessori education for much of their success. It was the
Montessori experience, they claim, that made them self-directed, allowing them to
think for themselves and pursue their real interests. The company floated in 2004 and
is run as a triumvirate of Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergei Brin.

Google Search and learning
Their mathematical approach to search problems at Stanford led to a search engine
that ranked sites by popularity. Their scalable model looked at links, so the larger the
web became the better their engine became. Famously based on a spelling error
(Google should have been Googol),

Google's mission is to „organize the world's information and make it universally
accessible and useful‟. Specialist searching of text, images, video, books, academic
papers, Universities, news, maps and prices, have given the ordinary user unparalleled
access to knowledge stored in different media.

It is the speed and efficiency of such search that has accelerated our ability as learners
to identify relevant knowledge. Learners of all ages and abilities see the web as a
useful source of knowledge. Researchers, from schoolchildren with projects to
advanced researchers in educational institutions, often find Google an indispensable

Google and digitisation
Google‟s work to digitise the contents of some of the word‟s great libraries is also
contributing to the storage and dissemination of knowledge. The aim is to make the
contents of books (text and images) searchable and available, while being sensitive to
the „in and out of print‟ issues along with the „copyright and public domain‟
restrictions. They are looking at millions of books available over and above the
existing Google Print program with publishers. This takes Google beyond searching
to the creation of online resources for searching.
Google Tools and learning
Gmail has given users a free email service with substantial amounts of storage.
Google Earth is an astonishing global map and satellite image search tool. Blogger
provides free blogging software to tens of millions of bloggers. Other tools focus on
searching and downloading software. These promise to put even more power I the
hands of learners, freeing us from the traditional limitations of libraries and physical
„places‟ of learning.

Page and Brin have created a toolset that has already revolutionised access to
knowledge. Their organisation continues to revolutionise learning and to „organize the
world's information and make it universally accessible and useful‟. The scale of this
task is enormous and on-going. Few organisations now have the tools and financial
muscle to make it possible. It is truly an example of technology making a huge impact
on the efficacy of learning.

Vise, David (2005). The Google Story. Macmillan.

Battelle, John (2005), The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of
Business and Transformed Our Culture. Nicholas Brealey Publishing Ltd.
                          Jeff Bezos is the founder of Amazon.com, originally an
                          online bookstore that now sells goods of all descriptions.
                          Amazon‟s contribution to the dissemination of knowledge
                          is considerable. Learning in many contexts, formal and
                          informal, is arguably still driven by books. They still fuel
                          learning in schools, colleges and universities and are a
                          mainstay in the diet of many learners. Books still matter
                          and never before have we had convenient access to so

Online access to books, has given us the ability to search, browse and buy a larger
range of books than was ever possible through traditional bookshops, often at cheaper
prices. Strangely, far from reducing the number of books bought in bookshops, it
seemed to nourish the market. Book clubs have never been more popular and
bookshops are selling more books than ever.

Personal recommendations
Beyond the simple buying (or selling) of books lies the cleverness of the reviews and
recommendations. You have access to customer reviews as well as lists of
recommended books under specific topics and personal recommendations tailored to
your interests. Some argue that this leads to an expansion of reading and interests as
the buyer is given breadth and depth of information about the books available that
lead to more books being bought.

Beyond books
Amazon already provides previews in the form of a few pages before you buy. Search
Inside the Book has been extended through experiments designed to change our
relationship with the printed text. Amazon Pages lets you buy one page at a time, each
for a few pence. Amazon Upgrade allows you to buy an online version for a premium
on the print version you buy, giving you 24/7 digital access. This gives readers the
ability to buy selectively, create text books. Online versions will allow access from
any where at any time. These, and other, future developments are likely to change the
way books are perceived in the future. They will be less dependent on the limitations
of print and paper.

By providing a fast-loading, easy-to-use, informative, fast-delivery service to book
buyers, and now other buyers, they created the largest bookstore in the world, giving
reasonably priced access to books no matter where you live. This has changed our
whole attitude to books, making many more books available to many more people. In
a curious twist of fate, books did not disappear under the digital onslaught but were
commoditised through online aggregation and distribution.
Chen and Hurley
                                  Chad Hurley and Steven Chen are the founders of
                                  YouTube, one of the most successful and
                                  remarkable websites ever created. Hurley studied
                                  Fine Art, Chen Science and Maths. Chen who was
                                  born in Taiwan met Chad Hurley when they both
                                  worked at eBay‟s PayPal. Three years later they
                                  founded YouTube in 2005. It was sold to Google for
                                  £1.65 billion in 2006.

YouTube is a huge repository of video clips. It experienced massive growth, not only
in the number of videos uploaded but on the number of videos watched. Its staggering
success came on the back of word of mouth and word of mouse recommendations,
starting with Saturday Night Live‟s Lazy Sunday clip. After son me legal battles,
YouTube is now doing deals to show copyrighted material and many see its
promotional power outweighing its lax attitude to copyright infringement.

How it works
Anyone can upload and share their clips (up to 10 minutes) for free. You can upload
in a whole range of video formats which are then converted to Flash Video (.flv) for
presentation on the YouTube site. This format is widely compatible. The video clips
also have some HTML that allows them to be linked to from blogs and other sites,
with an autoplay feature.

Education and training possibilities
Although set up to share entertainment, often funny and surreal, it now has thousands
of education and training clips. YouTube shows that searchable repositories need not
be confined to learning objects. Its mass appeal has allowed it to build and support a
service that has a strong brand and a robust infrastructure. It has grown as a bottom-up
repository and now contains a huge wealth of useful content in subjects as diverse as
language learning, science, medicine and so on.

Its power comes from the sheer size of the respository and range of content. Like
Wikipedia it is growing exponentially and as more serious content appears, teachers,
trainers, lecturers and learners can use this content as a free resource.

It may also be influencing the way video appears and is shown on the web. Most of
the clips are short, avoiding overlong instructional content and cognitive overload.
These short clips are often low on production values but high on creativity and fun.
For example, the „askaninja‟ clips show a man in a balaclava and black tee-shirt shout
and gesticulate answers to questions such as „What is podcasting?‟ His approach is
unorthodox and entertaining.

YouTube has the advantage of being a powerful global brand. It is shaping the way
video is created, distributed and watched on the web. It has the potential to act as a
vast education and training resource of free content, lowering costs for e-learning.
Internet Content
The web has produced lots of tools for learning. Google and other search engines
have opened up huge repositories of knowledge. In terms of learning content the web
also has its online sources that now contribute directly to learning. These range from
full online courses to deep and rich knowledge bases. In a direct challenge to
traditional print and classroom courses, online learning is accelerating and there are
two outstanding examples, one of courses, the other a knowledge base, where the end-
product is proof-enough of their success.

James Sperling changed the face of higher education in the US when he built the
University of Phoenix. This hugely successful learning organisation had and still has
online learning at its core. Sperling bucked the trend and had to fight for years to get
this organisation off the ground, and when he succeeded it became a hugely
successful business turning him into a billionaire.

Jimmy Wales is to be congratulated for producing a truly astonishing online
encyclopedia. It is astonishing because it was written, edited and policed by its users,
reversing traditional models of publishing. It is the fastest growing and most used
single knowledge base on the web and a true example of a radical idea and business
model, changing the very idea of how knowledge is created and distributed.
                          John Sperling is the billionaire founder of the University of
                          Phoenix in 1973, one of the most successful private
                          educational organisations in the world, built on a novel
                          mixture of e-learning and traditional course delivery. Long
                          before the internet matured Sperling spotted the opportunity
                          to learn online and built the systems that fuelled the growth
                          of the University of Phoenix, which had to fight against
                          traditional educational detractors, even to survive. The
                          success of the project in student numbers, output and
                          business terms has all but silenced these sceptics.

Sperling was born into a poor background, was seriously ill as a child spending six
months in bed and dyslexic. He became a seaman, shipyard worker then academic and
trade-unionist. Unsatisfied with being a professor at San Hose State University he
started to create vocational courses but became disillusioned with the view that a
University didn‟t need more students. At this point he decided to jump ship.

University of Phoenix
The University of Phoenix is the first and largest private university in the US. Its
students can do courses entirely online or in a mixture of online and classrooms in one
of its 170 local campuses across the US, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. An
enrolment counsellor determines what‟s best for each student.

A pioneer of online learning students do individual online courses as well as
interacting with other students. Lectures, questions and assignments are delivered via
the internet and can be accessed at any time, a need identified for learners who have
families or jobs (students are entirely of working adults - minimum age is 23). There‟s
also access to online libraries and services. The instructor still leads the process
through formative and summative assessment.

Longevity research
Sperling recently cloned his pet and has been a heavy funder of longevity research. A
long time supporter of liberal causes such as the legalisation of cannabis he published
Retro V Metro a book on the red/blue divide within American society.

Sperling is a provocateur, constantly at odds with the establishment views on
education and other topics. His principles include; ignoring your detractors, taking
bet-the-farm risks, challenging authority and never setting a goal. This unorthodox
approach to education and business has broken the mould and has shown that online
education works on scale for adults who can‟t conform to traditional timetables and
courses. As one of the most successful examples of online learning on the planet
Sperling is a true innovator in e-learning.

Sperling, John (1997). For-profit Higher Education: Developing a World Class
Workforce. Transaction Publishers, U.S.

Sperling, John (2000). Rebel With a Cause. Transaction Publishers, U.S.

Sperling, John (2005). The Great Divide: Retro Vs. Metro America. Polipoint Press.

                         Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikipedia and Director of the
                         Wikimedia Foundation. It was philosopher Larry Sanger who
                         first proposed the use of wiki technology to create an
                         encyclopedia in 2001, and Wales created a wiki used for
                         collaborative editing before submission to Nupedia for peer
                         review. Wikipedia then became the dominant force and has
                         grown into the largest and most used wiki on the web, a vast
                         encyclopedia built, edited and policed by its users.

Wales was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Although not home-schooling, it was
close as he was taught in a class of four by his mother and grandmother, who ran the
school. The school was significantly influenced by Montessori methods and he had
the freedom to study what he liked on his own terms. "Education was always a
passion in my household ... you know, the very traditional approach to knowledge and
learning and establishing that as a base for a good life." There are parallels with the
Montessori schooling of Larry Page and Sergie Brin, who conceived and founded

Wikipedia is a huge knowledge base, or encyclopedia, that has been created by its
users, who can publish and amend without having to download special software.
Other users, who correct errors, oversee the accuracy of the content. Since founded in
2001 it has grown into one of the largest and most used knowledge sources in the
world. With millions of articles in over 200 languages, tens of thousands of registered
users and thousands of articles added every day; it is one of the most visited sites on
the web.

There has been some debate about the reliability of Wikipedia but a blind-trial
research project published in Nature in 2005 found little significant difference
between it and the Encylopedia Britannica. Its dynamic nature with thousands of new
articles appearing every day, along with search capability, links, edit trails and
discussion groups makes it a very different type of resource when compared to print

Wales philosophy to knowledge capture and sharing is what he describes as anti-
credentialist, “To me the key thing is getting it right. And if a person's really smart
and they're doing fantastic work, I don't care if they're a high school kid or a Harvard
professor; it's the work that matters.... You can't coast on your credentials on
Wikipedia.... You have to enter the marketplace of ideas and engage with people."

The web now has a plethora of wiki applications including; wikidictionary, wikinews,
wikibooks, wikilaw, yellowiki and so on. In addition, wiki technology is being used to
revolutionise the way in which we capture, create, publish and update knowledge
within organisations. Wikis are becoming common within corporations as a method of
knowledge management. Their bottom-up ethos appeals to those who see knowledge
emerging from expertise within an organisation, as opposed to being handed down
from single authorities.

Wales has reversed the traditional publishing model of expert writes, everyone else
pays. In Wikipedia, everyone writes and no one pays. This is a radical shift in
publishing and a radical shift in the way knowledge is being made available on the
web, and elsewhere. It is truly one of the modern wonders of the web.

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